LINGUIST List 4.507

Tue 29 Jun 1993

Disc: GB & Politics

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. "Ellen F. Prince", Re: 4.495 GB and politics
  2. , Re: 4.495 GB and politics
  3. Bruce Samuelson, politics or science?
  4. Steven Schaufele, PPA, politics, and jobs
  5. Sabine Iatridou, Re: GB

Message 1: Re: 4.495 GB and politics

Date: Wed, 23 Jun 1993 13:21:17 Re: 4.495 GB and politics
From: "Ellen F. Prince" <>
Subject: Re: 4.495 GB and politics

as a non-syntactician who cares where our program's graduates wind up, no
matter what field they're in, i'd like to make one very practical suggestion.
that is, even if non-'gb' syntacticians feel it is particularly difficult for
them to get jobs, they might think twice before announcing that feeling
publicly, since many depts might be reluctant to hire someone who will train
their students in such a way as to become unmarketable. thus, it might become a
self-fulfilling prophesy, whether or not it was true at the outset.

in the same vein but from a different point of view, as one whose advisor had a
'non-dominant' framework, i believe very very strongly that it is incumbent
upon a grad program to ensure that their students are thoroughly conversant in
'dominant' frameworks, whether they think they're right or wrong. training a
grad student in a particular field without enabling him/her to keep abreast of
the bulk of the research going on in that field is, to my mind, grounds for a
malpractice suit. and, i repeat, this is entirely aside from questions of
'right/wrong theory', a notion that i personally take to be grossly premature,
if not downright funny.
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Message 2: Re: 4.495 GB and politics

Date: Wed, 23 Jun 93 14:33:16 EDRe: 4.495 GB and politics
From: <pesetskAthena.MIT.EDU>
Subject: Re: 4.495 GB and politics

Many of the participants in the current debate over "GB" write as if
they shared the assumption that scientific views are first and foremost
like religion or ethnicity, where the most important duty of society is
to see to it that individual groups are not discriminated against, and
to maintain some sort of balance.

But scientific views are not religion or ethnicity, because they can be
demonstrably right or wrong. It is foolish to deny that many factors
enter into the success of a linguistic theory. But one of them is
*results*, which blessedly in syntax is, as far as I can see, a
necessary (though, admittedly, often not sufficient) condition for
success. Whatever success GB had came first and foremost from its
results. If anyone can claim, for example, that "Lectures on Government
and Binding" was a skillful exercise in "marketing" (either on Chomsky's
part or that of Foris Publications), please, I'd like to learn just how.
Is it inconceivable that the ideas in that book were successful because
they seemed good?

Sure, we do not live in an ideal intellectual community where all ideas
are judged strictly on their merits and demerits. On the other hand, the
current discussion has been shockingly devoid of much acknowledgment
that ideas *have* merits and demerits and do get judged by them. This
seems overly cynical. The fact that there is injustice does not mean
that there is no justice. Actually, David Perlmutter put it better in a
talk a few years ago, where he replied to a question by observing "It's
good to be open minded, but not so open minded that your brains fall
out". (Did he make this up?)

-David Pesetsky
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Message 3: politics or science?

Date: Wed, 23 Jun 93 18:35:13 CDpolitics or science?
From: Bruce Samuelson <>
Subject: politics or science?

The recent discussions on GB remind me of issues raised in a Survey of
Linguistics Theories class I took in 1978. As the professor argued the case
for and against each of the several theories being considered, I became
disillusioned. I expected them to make empirical predictions which could be
confirmed or disproved by data. Non conforming theories would be ruled out.

Contrary to my expectations the professor used primarily philosophical lines
of reasoning to present evidence for and against the contenders. It seemed
that each theory was sufficiently pliable that it could be made to agree with
almost anything. The current GB discussions further my disillusionment. If
linguistic theories are justified by philosophical and political arguments, I
don't know what academic discipline the field belongs in, but it is definitely
not science.

A scientific theory should be terse, elegant, rigorous, precise, internally
consistent (to the extent that Goedel's theorem allows), and empirically
verifiable. At least this is what I was taught as a physics student in the 60s
and 70s. Physics has its petty politics too, and some practioners have strong
philosophical convictions, but the bottom line is that any candidate theory
must be consistent with itself, consistent with past experiments, and
falsifiable by new experiments.

Is this the bottom line for a theory of language too?
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Message 4: PPA, politics, and jobs

Date: Wed, 23 Jun 1993 20:20:27 PPA, politics, and jobs
From: Steven Schaufele <>
Subject: PPA, politics, and jobs

If i remember correctly, at the 1986 Annual Meeting of the LSA the members
present were asked to vote on a resolution that 'political' discussions be
kept out of the Society's publications. (As i remember, this resolution
was prompted by something that had appeared in either Language or the LSA
Bulletin during the previous year protesting the US government's policies
in Central America.) The tenor of the meeting was very strongly in favour
of continuing to allow free expression in Society publications to any
Society member who might feel that some overtly political issue has some
relevance to linguistic research. (One member, obviously striving for the
most far-fetched hypothetical example hann could think of, said something
to the effect of, 'If some linguist thinks the government's policies on
lunar settlement has some critical repercussions for language or linguistic
research, i for one would at least want to hear hanns grounds for thinking
so.) Having voted to keep the channels open, we then voted overwhelmingly
to condemn the English-Only movement, and severely edited a resolution
commemorating the 100th anniversary of Esperanto. It seemed to me at the
time that both of these were very political issues, which we were
addressing from the privileged point of view of our professional
expertise. I submit that the decision of the LSA Annual Meeting of 1986
anent political discussion in professional organs should also apply to

Concerning the issue of syntax jobs going preferentially to Chomskyans or
to PPA-proponents, i would note first of all that in the past few years
there have been several syntax jobs advertised that explicitly ask for
people conversant in a variety of (i.e., more than one) frameworks. I
suspect that these ads often mean 'we do NOT want a PPA proponent, but
rather someone who is knowledgeable about PPA but is familiar with at least
one other framework and willing and able to do work in both'. Also, with
regard to Joe Stemberger's remarks in LINGUIST 4-495, i know of at least
one case in which the faculty were willing to hire a non-GB person for a
syntax job, but the (graduate) students insisted that only a GB person was
acceptable to them. Their argument was somewhat as follows:

(a) While PPA may not be the 'best' theory, it disposes of special prestige
in the field if only in that it is the one against which all others measure

(b) This being the case, anybody wishing to do serious research in syntax
(and hoping to someday land an academic job as a syntactician) needs to be
conversant with PPA, whatever else hann may be doing.

(c) In order for a graduate student to be conversant with PPA, the faculty
under which hann is studying needs to have at least one person conversant
with PPA.

(d) A syntactician most of whose work is in PPA is more likely to keep up
with the framework, and therefore will be better able to maintain such
awareness in hanns students.

(e) Therefore, any linguistics department or programme that seriously aims
to prepare its students for academic/research careers should have at least
one syntactician on its faculty most of whose work is in PPA.

Whether every step of this argument holds water is another question. As
someone who sees himself in Michael Covington's categories (2) or (3) --
Syntacticians who work in PPA (not necessarily because they 'believe in it'
but) because they find it the most interesting framework, or who aren't
convinced by it but keep up on it because so much interesting work comes
out of it -- i would like to believe it is not necessary for one to be a
PPA-proponent to be 'up on' the framework, and maybe as Stemberger suggests
we do have a marketing problem. On the other hand, there is no question
that, given the large amount of interesting (whether flawed or not) work
being done in PPA, it is hard to read all the literature that comes out in
it, let alone also maintain one's familiarity with (any) other
framework(s). As someone who currently is only able to indulge in
linguistic research on a part-time basis, i am particularly aware of this
Dr. Steven Schaufele c/o Department of Linguistics
712 West Washington Ave. University of Illinois
Urbana, IL 61801 4088 Foreign Languages Building
 707 South Mathews Street
217-344-8240 Urbana, IL 61801
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Message 5: Re: GB

Date: Thu, 24 Jun 93 11:39:10 -0Re: GB
From: Sabine Iatridou <>
Subject: Re: GB

I am not on the Linguist list because I already have more e-mail messages than
I care to process but I was told about a debate regarding inflectional
agreement and scepticism that has been taking place on it for some time.

I am by all counts a "GBer" (I got my PhD at MIT in 1991 and Noam Chomsky was
my advisor). Nevertheless, I have disagreed with Pollock's arguments for the
existence of AgrP French and English in print (Linguistic Inquiry 1990).
Therefore, although I agree with the claim that many people follow unquestioned
assumptions blindly and that often sociological factors determine intellectual
decisions, I am not convinced that the situation is as general as it is made
out to be, nor that it is worse in linguistics than in other fields, especially
ones in a comparable stage of development.

Sabine Iatridou
Linguistics Dept.
U. of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia PA 19104
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