LINGUIST List 5.255

Sun 06 Mar 1994

Disc: Mainstream Linguistics

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  1. Martin Haspelmath, mainstream-periphery in linguistics

Message 1: mainstream-periphery in linguistics

Date: Mon, 21 Feb 1994 11:50:17 mainstream-periphery in linguistics
From: Martin Haspelmath <martinhafub46.zedat.fu-berlin.de>
Subject: mainstream-periphery in linguistics

I don't think David Gil's observation regarding the fears of
non-mainstream linguists is particularly surprising. Isn't this a normal
sociological effect? Marginal, non-mainstream members of a community are
ashamed of their status and try to hide it whenever possible--this seems
to be very common in all kinds of communities.

(The fact that non-mainstream linguists have fewer job chances can be seen
from the fact that many job announcements now include descriptions such as
"formal syntax", "formal semantics", etc. What do you do if you belong to
the non-negligible minority of linguists who happen to believe that
mainstream formal approaches to linguistics are misguided? (e.g. if you
think that the fuzzy approaches to grammar that were highlighted in a
recent LINGUIST posting are on the right track) By contrast, I haven't
seen a job announcement for fuzzy syntax or cognitive semantics yet.)

What I find more interesting is the question why there should be such a
mainstream-periphery division in linguistics at all. Does it exist in all
fields? Or is this specific to linguistics? A priori, a field could be
divided sociologically in all sorts of ways -- there could be two major
and equally respected schools (as in American party politics), or there
could be numerous small schools, with none of them having a clear leading
role (as in the present Russian parliament). In fact, linguistics seems to
be organized in the way Mexican politics is. Why?

Martin Haspelmath
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