LINGUIST List 4.658

Thu 02 Sep 1993


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  1. Keelung Hong, Stephen Murray response to Randy Harris
  2. Richard Wojcik, Re: 4.654 The LINGUISTics Wars (Author's Response)

Message 1: Stephen Murray response to Randy Harris

Date: Wed, 1 Sep 1993 08:42:35 -Stephen Murray response to Randy Harris
From: Keelung Hong <keelungitsa.ucsf.EDU>
Subject: Stephen Murray response to Randy Harris

Like Randy Harris, I am more interested in reading what others represented in
his book, THE LINGUISTIC WARS, think of their representations in it. Certainly,
anyone interested in the syntax and semantics of the 1970s and 80s will find
the book of considerable interest. There is something in it to provoke almost
any of the participants, and I certainly learned many things from it.

Being interested in the history of linguistics, I read the notes, including #22
on p. 271. The infamous Joos (1957:96) passage is alluded to a number of times
in the text, only one of which is in someone else's (than Harris's) words.
Whether Joos was endorsing "varying without limits" is dubious. Since he was
writing about phonology rather than syntax, I doubt it. The quotation has been
so misused for so long that I think Harris should have said IN THE TEXT that
this was a Chomskian reading rather than a statement of neo-Bloomfieldian

Given my greater interest in institutionalizing a perspective (securing funds,
placing students, etc.) and Harris's in texts, I understand what he means about
Sapir not "being the sort" to build a school. I think that he was more the
"sort" than Bloomfield, but had the bad luck to be trying when resources were
shrinking, in contrast to Chomsky and Halle who came along at a time of massive
expansion (as I think Moulton was the first to call attention to).

I do think THE LINGUISTIC WARS and Newmeyer's tendentious books give the
impression that there is/was no linguistics (or even work on syntax) other than
that by Chomsky and variously disaffected former MIT students. I think there
are more linguists doing tagmemic analyses than those trying to apply the
newest of the "new Chomskys"--the 1992 minimalist program that will likely
leave G-B/PP practitioners behind railing. Exccept in one list in one
quotation, Kenneth Pike is unmentioned either in the account of
(neo-)Bloomfieldianism or later.

I am pleased that Randy has clarified that he does not think I recommended
rejection of his review because of hostility in the review to one of my own
reviews, although he still seems to think that the reason was being too
pro-Chomsky, rather than not belonging in a linguistics rather than a history
of linguistics journal (where in fact the editor, Konrad Koerner, placed it).

I do like my assertion that to think everyone in linguistics wishes Chomsky
endless continuous prominence as "delusional or disingenuous," and happily give
ex post facto permission for its use. And hope to read other reactions to less
peripheral matters in the book!
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Message 2: Re: 4.654 The LINGUISTics Wars (Author's Response)

Date: Wed, 1 Sep 93 12:42:46 PDTRe: 4.654 The LINGUISTics Wars (Author's Response)
From: Richard Wojcik <>
Subject: Re: 4.654 The LINGUISTics Wars (Author's Response)

> 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 Canadian
 >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...

Just a quick comment on this exchange between Harris and Murray. I wonder
if Sapir's failure to establish a "school" had as much to do with his
personality as it did with the receptivity of scholars to his general
program at that time. When you look at Sapir's phonological theory, at
least, it is easy to see that he promoted roughly the same ideas that had
been promulgated by Baudouin de Courtenay in the late 19th century. Sapir's
brand of "mentalism" was under strong attack not only in America, but in
Europe as well, in the 20's and 30's. The three schools that evolved out
of Baudouin's phonemic theory--Prague, Leningrad, and Moscow--all came to
abandon the "psychological" underpinnings of phonemic theory in one way or
another. (I know from Jakobson's writings that Sapir and Trubetzkoy had
a strong correspondence together and recognized some of the similarity in
their phonological views.) Might it not be the case that Sapir came to
be viewed as "passe"--just like Baudouin de Courtenay was? After all,
Bloomfield himself subscribed to the old "psychologism" before he converted
to positivism. What makes you think Sapir was in a position to buck the
positivist tide?
 -Rick Wojcik (
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