LINGUIST List 4.654

Wed 01 Sep 1993

Disc: The LINGUISTics Wars (Author's Response)

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  1. Randy Allen Harris, The LINGUISTics Wars (author's response)

Message 1: The LINGUISTics Wars (author's response)

Date: Wed, 1 Sep 93 10:34:10 -04The LINGUISTics Wars (author's response)
From: Randy Allen Harris <>
Subject: The LINGUISTics Wars (author's response)

I am gratefully ambivalent about being the opening target for the Book
Discussion on LINGUIST (4.644, and 4.649), and would prefer eavesdropping
on the conversation over elbowing in, but some comments by John Lawler and
Stephen Murray require a response. I'll address each in turn, quoting
where necessary.


Since his words are very generous, and since there is only one response to
generosity, the bulk of his commentary calls only for "thank you." He was,
however, annoyed by the notes and the index (and Murray shared both

 >It must be said, however, for the benefit of those who are interested in
 >looking up themselves and their friends and enemies, that the book's
 >index is, alas, incomplete, in that it covers the extensive footnotes
 >only sketchily. In addition, most irritatingly, and unnecessarily so in
 >a book produced and published by electronic means, all of these foot-
 >notes are placed at the end of the book instead of on the page where
 >they refer.

Most unfortunately, I have to agree with his assessment of the index.
Oxford contracted the job out, and the person they hired did a really
splendid job--plenty of detail, lots of cross-references, all of the major
topics, people, and technicalities covered--with the very glaring, and
galling, exception of completely excluding the endmatter. I caught this in
the proofs, and the production was held up a month and a half while she was
allegedly fixing this problem. But she did a very sketchy job, and the
release couldn't be delayed any longer, and the notes are very poorly
covered in the index. I'm very sorry for the inconvenience this causes,
particularly as a good deal of the technical discussion, and much name
dropping of potential friends and enemies, is in the notes. (There are
some other small problems with the text, mostly concerning layout, but
Oxford generally did very well by me, except for this one rather serious

On the notes, however, I'm afraid I don't share Lawler's dissatisfaction.
I intended this book to be interesting and informative for linguists and
historians of linguistics, but I also want it to be accessible to
non-linguists. It is meant to be a book of "popular science," to sit with
generalist books about quantum mechanics and selfish genes and chaos
theory. Notes (some of mine are several pages long and quite dense with
references) at the bottom of the page might have been a little forbidding.
One of the reading options for the book is notes-free.


I'm glad Murray was entertained and felt that the central focus of the book
(the life cycle of generative semantics and its implications for current
work) was "even handed." But the bulk of his remarks are devoted to
negative criticisms of parts that he terms "peripheral." It is perhaps
somewhat small of me to take up cudgels for the periphery of the book (and
Murray's adjective is accurate), but Murray implies that those criticisms
bode ominous for the rest of the text. Since he knows those issues well,
and finds me so out-to-lunch about them, maybe I'm out to lunch about the
issues he doesn't know well, maybe I only *seem* to be even handed about
generative semantics and its period.

 >I want to write a positive review of Randy Harris's often-entertaining
 >Linguistic Wars, but (unlike John Lawler) the parts I know about
 >from Harris's representations don't inspire confidence.

Let's look at a few of those parts (WARNING: the following has a high
tedium factor; skip if easily bored, or uneasily bored).

Here is what Murray says about my use of the notorious Joos passage on
languages varying without limits (which Chomsky took to represent
"taxonomist" practices generally in his 1962 ICL assault on his

 >Like Chomsky, Harris is
 >willing to quote as someone's position what the author was writing
about as
 >someone else's, e.g., the infamous Joos (1957:96) varying without
limits in any
 >direction statement. It is probably true that Chomskians thought
that was a
 >Bloomfieldian tenet expressed by Joos, although it was Joos's (I
think apt)
 >characterization of Boasians (and in a text where Joos rejects the
 >"structure" in favor of "description").

Murray was good enough to give me some very extensive, and very useful,
comments on two earlier versions of the book, and we have corresponded
(congenially) for some time about issues concerning them. We talked about
the Joos quotation at some length, beginning with his accusation that I
repeated what he takes to be Newmeyer's sin of quoting Joos out of context.
 Newmeyer can defend himself (and has; see his exchange with Murray in the
pages of _Historiographia Linguistica_ 8:107-11, 9:185-7). For my part,
the text (p.64) is I think quite clear that I am paraphrasing Chomsky's use
of the quotation, not using it myself to indict the anyone. Further, the
quotation is preceded by the comment that pre-Chomskyans *were* interested
in universals. Further yet, the quotation has the following note attached
to it:

 Joos here is paraphrasing what he sees as the Boasian tradition,
not taking the
 tradition to its extreme himself. ... (p.271n22)

Somehow Murray missed this note (both passages, by the way, are indexed),
but I trust that more responsible readers won't be so hasty to tar it as

On an offhand remark I made (evidently more than once) about Sapir, Murray
complains (using it as another example of a part where I am misguided):

 >Or that Sapir was not the sort to sponsor a school (repeated). I
think that I
 >have documented that he tried plenty, but World War I blocked his
 >efforts and the Depression his American ones. His failures don't
establish that
 >he wasn't the sort.

This is another matter we discussed, and it seems just to be problem with
the construal of "sort". My remark isn't supposed to imply that Sapir
didn't *try* to sponsor a school (though I am mute on this question, and I
probably should have cited Murray, or Darnell's biography here). But
Sapir's much less methodical approach (than Bloomfield's) made his work
very difficult to emulate. The context of the first not-the-sort mention
(p.21), at least, should make this clear. I repeat it (featuring a
reappearance from Martin Joos):

 But he was not, even though there were linguists sometimes known as
 into the forties and fifties, the sort to sponsor a school; Joos
(1957:25) cites
 him not for "the developing of any method, but rather the
establishing of a
 charter for the free intellectual play of personalities more or
less akin to his
 own," and, in fact, Joos wags his finger a bit at "the essential
 of what has been called Sapir's 'method'." Sapirians (almost
entirely comprised
 of Sapir's students) were distinguished mostly by their unorthodox
interest in the
 mental life of language, for a certain methodological elasticism
 and for their occasional critiques of the orthodoxy, not for a
specific body of
 unique postulates and principles. (p.21)

Another Murray grievance:

 >Or that Pike and tagmemics (and stratificational grammar) are entirely
 >missing from the account, as if no attempts were made to develop

Bloomfieldianism and its environs are *not* my story. I try to give a
relatively full picture of pre-Chomskyan work, but it is still only
background. Pike, tagmemics, and stratificational grammar (along with
later developments, like GPSG, LFG, Montague Grammar, Functional Grammar,
and much else that I necessarily slight) would have taken me way too far

The most serious part of Murray's remarks for me, though probably the most
trivial for others is the personal offence he took at my recounting of a
rather typical academic incident, in which I was asked to write a review,
which was then rejected, partly on Murray's recommendation. (I know this
seems like a pretty petty thing to include in a book; but, trust me, it
serves a point.)

 >Personally disturbing to me is the implication (256, 308n20) that
I recommended
 >not publishing his review in Historiographia Linguistica because
it was too
 >pro-Chomsky (and that I want Chomsky dead!). From his review it
appeared that

This response is already very long, so I won't quote the offending
passages, but I do recommend reading them (and, for that matter, almost
anything of Murray's that concerns Chomsky) before taking Murray's outrage
too seriously. Certainly, I don't say that Murray has tried to poison
Chomsky's tea, or sent him a letter bomb, or anything of that sort. He did
recommend my review (of George, 1989) not be published, and he did snarl
about my supposedly pro-Chomskyan comments.

The complaint continues:

 >As for the reference to my work in Harris's review "complicating
matters," I
 >objected to the choice of verb "vilify" in regards to my review of
Newmeyer and
 >suggested several possible substitutes (like "excoriate") that are
far from
 >bland. Harris contended that "vilify" does not connote "slander,"
so presumably

These remarks will probably be mystifying to anyone who has read the
offending passages, and even to anyone with the patience to ferret out the
review in question, since there is no reference at all to Murray or his
critique of Newmeyer in the published review. In any case, by
"complicating matters" I meant only that the editor's (Konrad Koerner's)
choice of Murray to referee the review seemed calculated for rejection,
since (in the draft Murray saw) I said that Newmeyer (1980) "was vilified"
by Murray.

Just a little more:

 >this had nothing to do with recommending rejection of Harris's
review. The book
 >and review were outside the journal's field and Konrad Koerner got
it placed in
 >a more appropriate venue (Word).

Koerner invited me to review the book, and when he subsequently rejected
it, largely for what he took to be its uncritically pro-Chomskyan stance,
he recommended I try _Word_. I did, and it was taken, but I didn't regard
this as "placing" the review. Koerner has subsequently told me that he
wrote a letter to Sheila Embleton, the book review editor for _Word_,
recommending she take the review. I appreciate the recommendation.

In a personal note to me, Murray has also objected that I (and, long
before, Koerner) revealed his identity as the referee, suggesting that

 the appropriate ethical conduct would have been to clear permission
to attribute
 from what was supposed to be a privileged reviewer-to-editor

I apologize here publicly (as I have privately) for taking the liberty, but
I really didn't anticipate a problem. Murray and I had aired these issues
enough in our correspondence, and he is not shy about owning up to his
words, so I didn't foresee an objection, and, more generally, I'm opposed
to anonymous reviews. I think criticisms should circulate freely and
openly, with all labels attached, as they are, now, on LINGUIST.

My apologies also for the length of this response, but then you didn't read
it all anyway, did you?


George, Alexander, editor. 1989. _Reflections on Chomsky_. Oxford:
Basil Blackwell.

Harris, Randy Allen. 1991. Review of George (1989). _Word_ 42:327-35.

Joos, Martin. 1957. _Readings in linguistics_. Washingon: American
Council of Learned Societies.

Newmeyer, Frederick J. 1980. _Linguistic Theory in America_. New York:
Academic Press. (Second edition, 1986.)

Murray, Stephen O. 1981. Review of Newmeyer (1980). _Historographia
Linguistica_ 8:107-11. (Newmeyer's response, followed by a reply from
Murray, is in _HL_ 9:185-87.)

Randy Allen Harris
Rhetoric and Professional Writing 519 885-1211, x5362
English, U of Waterloo FAX: 519 884-8995
Waterloo ON, CANADA, N2L 3G1
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