LINGUIST List 4.719

Sat 18 Sep 1993

Disc: The Linguistic Wars: Ross, Syllabi

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. RichardHudson, Ross
  2. , RE: 4.703 The Linguistic Wars: Ross, Constraints
  3. Margaret M. Fleck, Re: 4.698 Ross and The Linguistic Wars

Message 1: Ross

Date: Thu, 16 Sep 93 09:41:31 +0Ross
From: RichardHudson <>
Subject: Ross

We all agree that Ross was important; but how many of us are aware of his
continuing influence via the concepts and terminology that he launched?
Young linguists are influenced by him whether they know it or not. I
quote from the Acknowledgements section of a recent dictionary of
syntactic terminology which covers no fewer than 1400 terms, and therefore
speaks with some authority:

 "Special mention is due to the linguist who, perhaps even more than
 Noam Chomsky, has shown a phenomenal talent for coining enduring
 terms which now seem as familiar as `noun' and `verb': John Robert
 Ross. Haj, your fingerprints are all over our discipline."

(Larry Trask, A Dictionary of Grammatical Terms in Linguistics, London:
Routledge, 1993 - highly recommended!)

Dick Hudson
Dept of Phonetics and Linguistics,
University College London,
Gower Street,
London WC1E 6BT
(071) 387 7050 ext 3152
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: RE: 4.703 The Linguistic Wars: Ross, Constraints

Date: Tue, 14 Sep 93 23:02 MET
From: <>
Subject: RE: 4.703 The Linguistic Wars: Ross, Constraints

Steven Schaufele's call for a history of (fairly recent) linguistics course
struck a sympathetic chord with me. As someone old enough to have lived
through most of the Linguistic Wars, though with the Atlantic Ocean in
between, I'm very aware of the gap between explanation by historical
example and up-to-dateness (though things aren't necessarily better in
some respects, 20-30 years on, as some correspondents have pointed out).
The line between old fogeyism and young Turkism isn't a hard and fast one,
and isn't necessarily anything to do with age.

However, a constructive suggestion. I've toyed with the idea of presenting
this history of fairly recent linguistics not by lecturing on the stuff or
even getting the students to wade through a booklist (however modest), but
rather - using good 'hands on' teaching principles - by way of important
example sentences: you know, 'Flying planes can be dangerous', MIGs and jets,
'Seymour sliced the salami with a knife', 'the convict with the red shirt'
and so on. These could be arranged in assignment form, with some biblio-
graphical information, for longer papers by students, or students could be
left to track them down themselves, and then briefly say what point they were
intended to make. This obviously depends on how deep the course is supposed
to go, whether it's just for general orientation, or an academic course like
any other. If this strikes anybody else as containing the germ of a useful
idea, perhaps the LINGUIST list might be used as a forum to compile a list
of these significant examples.

Paul Werth.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: Re: 4.698 Ross and The Linguistic Wars

Date: Tue, 14 Sep 1993 17:26:31 Re: 4.698 Ross and The Linguistic Wars
From: Margaret M. Fleck <>
Subject: Re: 4.698 Ross and The Linguistic Wars

In his recent message, David Pesetsky seems to presuppose that, to
educate current students about the history of the field, it is
necessary that they learn about earlier work the same way their senior
colleagues did: by reading that work in its original form. For

 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. ....

This is a strawman. The proper way to educate current students is not
to have them read e.g. Ross in the original. They don't have time to
handle the mass of text and the strange old notations and theories.
Nor even to scan massive exhaustive bibliographies. Not unless they
take a (possibly elective) history of science course.

Rather, students must be given pre-processed versions of earlier
material, e.g.

 -- the contributions of key figures RESTATED IN THE CONTEXT OF
 CURRENT THEORY and put in a positive light (i.e. resisting the
 temptation to snipe at their defects),
 -- those wonderful little 2-3 paragraph "historical notes" so
 common in math/science texts, giving a little bio of the person
 who named the theorem, a flavor of their period, the context
 in which they originally proved a theory (or whatever), and
 often some cute anecdote (like Gauss adding the numbers from
 1 to 1000 in only a couple minutes).
 -- choice quotes from previous work, and
 -- those cherished few papers that are short and still readable
 despite the passage of years.

In papers, this means

 -- being willing to say that the topic or approach dates back decades,
 rather than giving in to the temptation to pretend it is new this year,
 even if you provide only names ("This method dates back to Ross
 in the 70's") not full citations.

For examples, look at how physical scientists and mathematicians treat
old classic work, e.g. Newton, Einstein, Go"del, in textbooks (both
graduate and undergraduate).

Margaret Fleck
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue