LINGUIST List 4.967

Sun 21 Nov 1993

Disc: Linguistics as psychology

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Steven Sch\dufele, linguistics as psychology, linguistics as anthropology, linguistics as
  2. Richard Wojcik, Re: 4.961 Psycholinguistics
  3. , -0800

Message 1: linguistics as psychology, linguistics as anthropology, linguistics as

Date: Wed, 17 Nov 1993 11:48:30 linguistics as psychology, linguistics as anthropology, linguistics as
From: Steven Sch\dufele <>
Subject: linguistics as psychology, linguistics as anthropology, linguistics as
 ... ?

In LINGUIST 4.934 Esa Itkonen <> raises the question
'Is linguistics just a subbranch of psychology?', and mentions three
possible alternatives: (1) linguists who 'systematize the intuitive notion
of "grammatical (and meaningful) sentence" while paying no attention to,
and even going against, any reasonable hypotheses about psychological
structures and/or processes and who, nevertheless, achieve exemplary
results.' (2) linguists who claim 'to be doing
psychological/psycholinguistic research' but are actually pursuing research
programs analogous to those of the first type. (3) linguists 'who both
claim to be doing and are in fact doing psycholinguistic (= preferably
experimental) research.'

I'm not sure this covers all of us. For one thing, i'm not at all sure
where i fit into this typology. Perhaps this is the time to remind
everybody that, historically, the discipline of linguistics in Europe (and,
as far as i know, elsewhere in the 'Old World') developed out of such
disciplines as classics, liturgics, and literary studies -- basically
humanistic (in a rather broad sense) type stuff. Here in North America, on
the other hand, linguistics as an academic discipline developed in
connection with anthropology; consider Boaz, Bloomfield, etc. Granted, in
the 19th century we had some American linguists trained in the philological
traditions of European linguistics, e.g. Whitney, but academic linguistics
really took off here in the early 20th century with Boaz, Bloomfield, and
that whole school of anthropological linguistics directed towards the study
of 'indigenous'=non-Indo-European languages. The notion of linguistics as
a branch of psychology is simply another point of view ('aspect' in the
literal sense) on the study of human language. As far as i know, it is
relatively new -- a product of the 'generative enterprise'. In any case it
is an enrichment of our field, but i don't think it should be allowed to
supplant the older aspects (in this respect i am in complete agreement with
Edith A Moravcsik <>'s remarks in the same LINGUIST

Now, personally, i subscribe wholeheartedly to the generative agenda as far
as the goals of linguistics are concerned: i view our purpose as
illuminating an important part of human cognitive ability. In this
respect, when i am asked 'What is linguistics?' or 'What do linguists do?'
or 'What is linguistics good for?' i tend to give an answer that implies
that linguistics is a branch of psychology or, at least, that it is
primarily a 'cognitive' science. But i find, coming down to brass tacks,
that when i am actually doing research i am functioning more like an
anthropologist: collecting linguistic-behavioural data from a variety of
sources that vary along a set of axes such as ethnicity, geographical
location, chronology (both biological age and location in time, as distinct
from space), social status/function, etc. and trying to relate the observed
variation in linguistic behaviour to these extra-linguistic variables in
the manner of an anthropologist. I suppose one could start from the same
origin and address the whole business from a sociological point of view,
but it's the anthropological parallel that seems to work best for me. Note
that literary studies haven't been mentioned here, even though at the
moment i am primarily involved in the study of literary corpora; i may be
looking at the same sort of data a literary scholar might study, but i'm
treating it the way i imagine an anthropologist treats the behaviour hann
observes in the field. So although i am prepared to recognize linguistics
as certainly related to psychology, and even individual linguists as, in a
sense, basically psychologists whose area of research and expertise happens
to be human language, i have trouble seeing myself in that mold. I am
fascinated by what linguistics can tell us about human psychology and
cognition, but that's not the way i pursue linguistic research.

Perhaps this is what Esa meant by the 'HINT: accept the existence of
dissimilar objectives, but reject contradiction between words and deeds'?


Dr. Steven Schdufele 217-344-8240
712 West Washington Ave.
Urbana, IL 61801

*** O syntagmata linguarum liberemini humanarum! ***
 **** Nihil vestris privari nisi obicibus potestis! ****
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Re: 4.961 Psycholinguistics

Date: Fri, 19 Nov 93 17:03:30 PSRe: 4.961 Psycholinguistics
From: Richard Wojcik <>
Subject: Re: 4.961 Psycholinguistics

Martin Haspelmath has argued (correctly IMHO) that the cognitive/psychological
tradition in linguistics has strong historical roots (contra Schaufele). I
want to comment on the following remarks made by Haspelmath:

> The Neogrammarians had a clear cognitive orientation, and so did the
> European structuralism of Trubetzkoy and Jakobson (note that Jakobson
> 1944 was one of the first linguists to bring together data from aphasia
> and linguistic theory).
> The only influential anti-cognitivist, anti-psychological school was
> Bloomfield and the post-Bloomfieldians...

Although Trubetzkoy and (more especially) Jakobson had much to say about the
psychological effects of grammar, I think a case can be made that they were
in the forefront of their contemporaries in rejecting psychologism. First
of all, both linguists were products of Fortunatov's Moscow Formalists,
arch-rivals of St. Petersburg's more cognitive-oriented view of language. When
Trubetzkoy and Jakobson joined other Russian linguists in adopting Baudouin
de Courtenay's psychological theory of phonemics--a theory that relied
heavily on the intertwining of phonology with linguistic perception and
production--they sought to redefine the phoneme in structural, rather than
psychological, terms. Trubetzkoy even dismissed Baudouin in passing in his
textbook. I would say that structuralism had very strong roots in formalism,
and that it was generally anti-cognitivist in flavor. Although the post-
Bloomfieldians represented a rather extreme anti-cognitivist position, one
cannot simply say that Trubetzkoy and Jakobson were pro-cognitive simply
because of their differences with extremists. They were all structuralists,
after all.

 The Prague Schoolers weren't even alone in their rejection of psychologism.
The Moscow School of Phonology, which arose in parallel with the Prague
School, was not structuralist. They didn't follow in Saussure's wake. But,
true to Fortunatov's memory, they came to divorce Baudouin's theory from
its foundation in language behavior (while continuing to talk about its
relevance to linguistic behavior--just like Jakobson). They wanted to
define linguistic systems in more "objective" terms.

 I think that the competence/performance dichotomy, along with its
necessary distinction between internal and external evidence, has served
one main purpose in the history of linguistics: to get structuralists
thinking again about the psychological underpinnings of the grammar. But
the dichotomy rests on the shaky assumption that the brain has a specialized
function for introspection about linguistic behavior. I think that humans
are able to introspect about everything they do. Intuitive judgments are
tied to a general cognitive ability, and linguistic "systems" exist for
other purposes--to instruct people on how to produce (and comprehend)
linguistic messages. So it isn't surprising to me that linguists keep
batting their eyelashes at psychologists. They belong together. :-)

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed above are not those of my employer.
 Rick Wojcik (
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: -0800

Date: Sat, 20 Nov 1993 11:45:34 -0800
From: <>
Subject: -0800

re psycholinguistics/aphasia evidence. A good example of the
difficulty of interpreting the bearing of external evidence
on linguistic theories is given by Vicku Fromkin's example
of this brain damaged patient that could not identify
a cow or a horse when presented pictures of the animals
but could, when the pictures were of a cow kicking the horse
(or the reverse) could use syntax to point out at the
cow or horse. She concludes:
" Thus any theory of grammar which does not separate syntax from
semantics is unable to account for such data"
I'm not sure what exactly Vicki Fromkin had in mind here,
but, if I understand correctly the experiment, I don't know
of any theory of grammar on the market that would not explain
the result.
1. Presumably, the patient understands the semantics of "kick"
including how to distinguish the kick-er and the kick-ee
2. The patient has some idea of "subcategorization" and
how to relate subcategorized for arguments to surface syntax
(however this is accomplished in your favorite theory:
theta-criterion and Case theory, Subcategorization Principle
Completeness and Coherence, elaboration sites...)
3. THe patient therefore knows how to identify the kicker and
the kickee from a combination of his/her knowledge of the meaning
of "kick" and his/her knowledge of point 2.

ANY theory I know of, whatever their stance on the syntax/semantics
interface has the equivalent of subcategorization and, to simplify,
the theta-criterion. So, the experiment does not help us decide any
contested point of linguistic theory, which, by the way, is a
very positive result. It means that all linguists agree that
in form or another, the notion of subcategorization and its
relation to surface syntax is a crucial aspect of the language
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue