LINGUIST List 5.1258

Tue 08 Nov 1994

Disc: Linguistics and imperialism

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  1. benji wald, Re: 5.1225 Linguistics and Imperialism

Message 1: Re: 5.1225 Linguistics and Imperialism

Date: Mon, 07 Nov 94 19:32 PST
From: benji wald <IBENAWJMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 5.1225 Linguistics and Imperialism

With regard to Hoberman's comment. It would not make sense to say that
linguistics is inherently imperialistic in nature, any more than it would
for any other science, since linguistics is multi-faceted and has many
purposes, some now well established and others continually evolving, e.g.,
"forensic" applications of linguistics etc. Since language is universal,
applications for linguistics are universal. In my earlier comments I
dwelt on diversity among languages because that's where the connection
between linguistics (mainly as an aid to learning and teaching languages)
and multilingual empires (= "imperialism") is easiest to see. However,
I also noted that there are people who are interested in language and
linguistic diversity for its own sake. I suspect that this is universal.
although it may be reflected differently in different cultures. Maybe
the universality of interest in language and linguistic diversity is
reflected in myths about the origin of such diversity, or other kinds
of "pre-linguistic" explanations. Among cultures which seem
particularly ethnocentric to me, Classic Athenian culture perhaps was
less encouraging to interest in other languages than most cultures (with
the US perhaps close behind but also with a complex fear and insecurity
about languages other than English). Nevertheless, we see from Plato's
Cratylus that differences between Greek (in its various diachronic forms)
and the "Barbarian" languages was put to philosophical use. If you
read Cratylus, you'll see that Plato, through Socrates, was putting
some value on philosophical arguments which brought in data from other
languages. (Even though there's a lot of sarcasm and tongue in cheek in
the whole issue as Plato treats it in Cratylus, i.e., whether the words of
language are "natural" or "conventional"/are there "correct" words for
ideas/concepts/things? -- Plato is always a polemicist, reacting to rival
schools of thought.)

I would like to re-open the issue (I think it was once opened before on
the list) about how different cultures "explain" language diversity, and
whether there is a culture which prevents all individual members from
being interested in language for its own sake. I don't think that could
logically be possible -- but what do I know? In any case, this might
give us some insights into the "prehistory of linguistics", and also into
the still present motivations of SOME linguists to attach themselves to
this aspect of OUR culture. Benji
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