LINGUIST List 4.913

Thu 04 Nov 1993

Disc: Psycholinguistics

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  1. Teresa M. Meehan, Re: 4.903 Psycholinguistics
  2. Anjum Saleemi, Re: 4.903 Psycholinguistics

Message 1: Re: 4.903 Psycholinguistics

Date: Tue, 2 Nov 1993 12:35:22 -Re: 4.903 Psycholinguistics
From: Teresa M. Meehan <>
Subject: Re: 4.903 Psycholinguistics

As a graduate student, I have found the current discussion on the
acceptance of psycholinguistics by linguists to be a very interesting
one. But Vicki Fromkin's (4.903) mention of a separation between
"representation (competence) and processing (performance)," leads me to
wonder about the current view of semiotics among linguists. Has the
field moved away from Saussurian principles (i.e., language as a
system of signs)? And what about the works of C.S. Peirce? How are
they considered?
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Message 2: Re: 4.903 Psycholinguistics

Date: Wed, 03 Nov 93 12:58:25 SSRe: 4.903 Psycholinguistics
From: Anjum Saleemi <ELLAPSNUSVM.bitnet>
Subject: Re: 4.903 Psycholinguistics

The ongoing discussion about the growing significance of psycholinguistics
is very interesting. On the one hand, even as a borderline psycholinguist who
often finds himself suspended between psychological and linguistic reasoning,
I'm extremely pleased that the change that is supposed to (and should) be
happening is indeed taking place. On the other hand, I'm puzzled why this has
started to happen only in the last couple of years (re Marantz's message), and
not earlier, and in general why it has EVER been otherwise, considering that
at least according to some (very influential) points of view linguistics is
merely a branch of psychology. In fact, it seems to me that in these terms the
term "psycholinguistics" is somewhat tautological (that is, if linguistics IS
actually taken to be a part of psychology).

My point, put somewhat radically, is this: inspite of some major conceptual
shifts, the field has remained fairly structural in practice; at the level of
methodology, the focus has overwhelmingly been on the formal (read=notational)
study of language, with intuitive judgements about grammaticality (for example)
being the major (usualy the ONLY) determinants of the validity of a particular
hypothesis. Although my own practice has not been too far removed from this
methodological orthodoxy, I've often wondered about other types of evidence
that are actually or potentially accessible. Take the case of intuitive
judgements of grammaticality: these are admittedly an extremely good FIRST
approximation to reliable data, but clearly they aren't good enough to justify
basing hypotheses and theories entirely on them. Aren't such judgements
obtained under conditions which are only remotely comparable to those
prevailing in even the crudest experiments? Also, with the recent theoretical
advances, it is probably going to be more and more the case that hypotheses may
have to be accepted or rejected the basis of very subtle evidence. (Can I just
point out that physical scientists spend a LOT of time in designing techniques
which would help them get the best relevant evidence.)

Surprisingly, though, the notational-structural style of argumentation is still
dominant, although I hope that the changes reported by Marantz in the MIT
graduate programme (among other factors pointed out by Fromkin and others) will
make a difference, eventually. I do not by any means object to the importance
of abstract model building, but only wish to point out that this sort of work
doesn't have a privileged status, and that important insights can come from
virtually any direction.

In short, I believe that linguistics is a discipline which is very likely to
lead to several empirically significant consequences; however, whether it'll
develop into a empirical science aiming at unravelling a particular aspect of
human psycho-biological reality, or become a discipline largely devoted to
abtract reasoning for its own sake, is something which remains to be seen.

I'd be grateful for any comments about this line of reasoning, which has been
bothering me a great deal lately and hopefully isn't entirely alien to the
thinking of many other members of the field either.

Anjum Saleemi
National University of Singapore
ellapsnusvm OR
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