LINGUIST List 4.698

Mon 13 Sep 1993

Disc: Ross and The Linguistic Wars

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  1. BERNHARD W ROHRBACHER, Re: 4.688 Ross and The Linguistic Wars
  2. , Re: 4.688 Ross and The Linguistic Wars
  3. Helen Dry, Ross, GB, _Wars_: response

Message 1: Re: 4.688 Ross and The Linguistic Wars

Date: Sun, 12 Sep 1993 16:08:40 Re: 4.688 Ross and The Linguistic Wars
Subject: Re: 4.688 Ross and The Linguistic Wars

Let me contribute a personal note regarding van Riemsdijk's & Williams'
alleged responsibility for the alleged GB-disrespect for Ross' dissertation.
When I started grad school, Edwin Williams taught the intensive introduction
to syntactic theory (which was by the way the best course I ever took). Van
Riemsdijk & Williams' book and a reader (containing among other stuff excerpts
from Ross' dissertation) served as the basis for the course. I walked away
with the impression that Ross' dissertation was truly groundbreaking and
that his theoretical insights are still valid in many respects. I think that
this result was intended by Edwin Williams. So please give the man a break.
Bernhard Rohrbacher
Dept. of Linguistics
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003 USA
phone: (413) 549-1459
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Message 2: Re: 4.688 Ross and The Linguistic Wars

Date: Sun, 12 Sep 93 22:41:46 EDRe: 4.688 Ross and The Linguistic Wars
From: <pesetskMIT.EDU>
Subject: Re: 4.688 Ross and The Linguistic Wars

A reply to Helen Dry and Bob Ingria: When have younger members of a
research profession not been taken to task by their elders for failing
to realize the importance of previous decades' classics? Surely if
there had been LINGUIST around in the late 1960s we would have heard the
same complaints, with different names.

These gripes relate to a real question, however, which I often face
around this time of the year. How much do you ask the students to read
from the classics of the past, and how much do you focus on the work of
the present? Bob Ingria was right about MIT in the late 1970s and early
1980s. We all read Ross's thesis; we all read Aspects. We didn't all
read the works that preceded Aspects. The excitement of the day was LGB.

But LGB is now about as remote from current students, chronologically,
as Ross's thesis was from Ingria and me when we entered graduate school.
Ross's thesis, in turn, which was ten years old when I entered graduate
school, is now 26 years old, if I'm not mistaken. That makes it
chronologically as remote from today's entering student as something
written in 1950 or 1951 was from Ingria and me. Probably it was as
remote as The Event for the recent PhDs that Helen Dry spoke with.

Well, a lot has been written since Ross's thesis. I will admit that in
my view, currently popular views about extraction from Complex NPs and
the like are not as far advanced over Ross's as one might have hoped.
But there's a huge body of other knowledge and ways of doing syntax that
were probably not dreamed of at the time of Ross's thesis. Students
have to know some of this.

It might be nice if we could educate current students so that they read
as much in their 4-5 years as Ingria and I have read in 10-15 years.
But that's just not reasonable. And maybe it would not be so nice, if
so much bibliography ended up stifling creativity. The result, of
course, is real ignorance on the part of many current students of
matters that no self-respecting grad student could have ignored in the
late 1970s or early 1980s. But this is coupled with real knowledge of
matters that no one knew in 1980.

I'm not defending any sort of ignorance, but neither should we long for
a field of syntax in which the same timeless classics occupy center
stage year after year. A little ignorant arrogance about the
achievements of the present can be one sign of a healthy and living
field. It's not always pleasant to encounter (if you've been in the
field awhile), it's not just, but it's not yet another GB conspiracy

 -David Pesetsky
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Message 3: Ross, GB, _Wars_: response

Date: Sun, 12 Sep 93 24:01:46 EDRoss, GB, _Wars_: response
From: Helen Dry <>
Subject: Ross, GB, _Wars_: response

Personal note: I agree with David Pesetsky, as any teacher must, about
the impossibility of asking students to read everything. And--re:
Bernard Rohrbacher's message--I appreciate the reminder that the impression
a book leaves with a reader is not always what the author intended,
since pragmatic and intellectual context, reader subjectivity,
stylistic quirks, etc. have an inevitable influence on
interpretation. I'm particularly aware of this at this moment,
since my message seems to have been read as reflecting a low opinion
of GB, when all I meant to lay claim to is a high opinion of Ross.
As most of the messages I got insisted, the two are NOT
necessarily linked.

I might add, however, that some of us "old-timers" (Gad!!) do
sometimes drift into sounding faintly aggrieved that what we
did or learned isn't valued. This seems to me exactly
the inverse of what is complained of in the new-timers and equally
to be avoided if possible. Actually, one of the things I like
about working with LINGUIST is that (I like to think) far-flung
e-mail interchange helps break down such emotion-tellectual

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