LINGUIST List 4.777

Thu 30 Sep 1993

Disc: Natural Phonology, Linguistic Science

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  1. "Geoffrey S. Nathan<, Discredited approaches!
  2. Stephen P Spackman, Re: 4.771 Linguistic Pedagogy, "Haj" Ross
  3. mark, Haj Ross

Message 1: Discredited approaches!

Date: Tue, 28 Sep 93 21:12:53 CSDiscredited approaches!
From: "Geoffrey S. Nathan< <GA3662SIUCVMB.SIU.EDU>
Subject: Discredited approaches!

As the member of an endangered species (living, practicing Natural
Phonologists) I must protest Peter Salus' characterization of us as
discredited. Unpopular perhaps, scorned, ignored, (much the way Haj
is, incidentally, but that's another story), but I refuse to be
In Europe, on the other hand, Natural Phonology, of several stripes,
is alive and well, with annual meetings and proceedings volumes
in press and in prep.
That doesn't mean you should derive Haj from John. Or that anyone
should try. (Let me note, however, that the Cyrillic value of
'H' is /n/, so I merely mention in passing that Haj could be John
backwards.) Nuff said. (Ffum said ?)
 Geoffrey S. Nathan
 Department of Linguistics
 Southern Illinois University
 Carbondale, IL, 62901 USA
 Phone: (618) 453-3421
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Message 2: Re: 4.771 Linguistic Pedagogy, "Haj" Ross

Date: Tue, 28 Sep 93 16:06:09 +0Re: 4.771 Linguistic Pedagogy, "Haj" Ross
From: Stephen P Spackman <>
Subject: Re: 4.771 Linguistic Pedagogy, "Haj" Ross

Philip Swann writes:

>In reply to Steven Schaufele's claim that linguistics is the
>scientific study of language, some brief remarks on what is
>a vast topic:
>1. Similar claims have been made about the whole range of
> social "sciences", but they have generally been rejected
> by philosophers and historians of science.

Sometimes on principle, but sometimes, of course, only as a technical
critique: a snub if false, something to correct if true.

>2. A rational, methodical and data-driven investigative style
> is not enough to define an activity as "scientific". Otherwise,
> as Schaufele suggests, practically everything we do becomes
> science: Why not cooking or gardening?

There are indeed scientists of cooking and gardening; we refer to them
as chemists, nutritionists, botanists and so forth. Just as there are
linguists, who study language, and speakers, who "merely" indulge in it.
Science is possible wherever there are observables, and at least
marginally meaningful wherever they correlate.

>3. Consider the stock exchange, a semiotic system at a level of
> complexity similar to that of language. [...]
> All the retrospective studies confirm that
> there is no way to predict the stock market. In other words,
> it has been demonstrated scientifically that the market is
> not open to scientific description.

It is a familiar problem in linguistics that some confuse description
with prescription; aren't we here confusing description with prediction?
Originally it was hoped that physics would be fully predictive; this
view was later modified to a constraint-based one, in which the best one
could do was enumerate options subject to constraints (such as
conservation laws and so on). Finally, it has turned out that even these
constraints are only statistical bulk properties and do not apply to
every case. If physics is not fully predictive, but instead provides us
with probabilistic characterisations and prefered paths of development,
why should we be *more* demanding of linguistics?

In *principle*, linguistics is surely a science. As to whether it has
yet developed all the conceptual and cultural machinery that it needs to
advance as one, that is another question: I have severe doubts as to
whether the crucial doctrine of considering only observables linked by
plausible causal(*) chains has yet adequately permeated the field.
stephen p spackman +49 681 302 5288(o) 5282(sec)
 dfki +1.24 / stuhlsatzenhausweg 3 / 66123 saarbruecken / germany
(*)I think the relevant notion of causality is one of computability
with known resources - the physical universe, for instance, is *not*
precisely a Turing machine, but *does* have "computational" properties
of its own; if so, then so must the brain, and so must social processes.
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Message 3: Haj Ross

Date: Tue, 28 Sep 93 09:38:24 ESHaj Ross
From: mark <>
Subject: Haj Ross

> By the way, forgive a poor Midwestern linguist who's never
> been near MIT, but how did John Robert Ross come by the
> nickname (ekename) 'Haj'? Could somebody clue me in?

I asked George Lakoff just that question when I was a student of
his twelve or fifteen years ago at Berkeley, in connection with
Dong's reference to it as his "Black Muslim" name. (Or should I
say Quang's? This was in a paper under the name of Quang Phuc Dong
of the South Hanoi Institute of Technology: one of Ross's
pseudonyms for his essays in scato- and pornolinguistics.) I had
never met Ross and knew nothing about him personally, and thought
maybe he was Black. I didn't know that the Quang pseudonym was

>From what I remember of George's answer, Ross has had that
nickname since childhood or his teen years. It comes from a
character called Haj or Hajji, in (I believe) the Arabian Nights.

 Mark A. Mandel
 Dragon Systems, Inc. : speech recognition : +1 617 965-5200
 320 Nevada St. : Newton, Mass. 02160, USA :
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