LINGUIST List 5.783

Thu 07 Jul 1994

Disc: Linguist-bashing

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  1. Paul Deane, Linguist-bashing

Message 1: Linguist-bashing

Date: Mon, 4 Jul 1994 19:12:21 -Linguist-bashing
From: Paul Deane <an995FreeNet.Carleton.CA>
Subject: Linguist-bashing

I would like to find out if, as I have, other linguists have encountered
examples of linguist-bashing, NOT in the popular press, but in closely
allied fields like AI and psychology. I just ran across two, which I
enclose below. I have a very simple question: What are we doing wrong to
be on the receiving end of items like the following?

>From a Psycoloquy book review:

> 2. Here is the obviously true part ("obviously true" means "we agree
> with Gernsbacher, and don't understand how anyone other than a linguist
> could believe otherwise"): (1) Most of the processes that are important
> for natural language understanding underlie other cognitive tasks. And
> (2) language understanding is primarily about underlying conceptual
> structures.

Posted to Comp.AI.Natlang on Usenet news:

> Subject: An AI fable: Borne and the Wheel (a bit long)
> Date: 1 Jul 1994 09:40:59 -0400

> Once upon a time, in the kingdom of Pork, where good king Phunding
> reigned, transportation was slow because everyone carried things upon
> their own backs. King Phunding was a curious king, and he thought to
> remedy the situation. He gathered all the wise men from his kingdom
> to his court, and bade them them dream of some marvelous invention or
> another to make transportation easier. One group of wise men were
> known as the Linguesses, because their method to discover new things
> was to make guesses. The chief of the Linguesses was Chumpsky, who
> made the most guesses and was the loudest about it.

> "Gentlemen," said Chumpsky, "what we need is a Wheel." There was a
> silence of awe. No one had ever thought of a Wheel before. Chumpsky
> continued. "My guess is," said Chumpsky, "that a Wheel would be
> perfectly square, nature's perfect shape, and constructed of tinfoil
> and butterfly wings." The Linguesses thundered their approval. King
> Phunding was mighty pleased, and decreed that from then on, all the
> wise men should think day and night about the Wheel, to the exclusion
> of anything else. Butterflies were collected by the thousands. Men
> talked about Wheels, dreamed about Wheels, all of them with the
> perfect shape, nature's perfect shape, the square as decreed by
> Chumpsky. One radical proposed a pentagon or five-sided Wheel, but he
> was drummed out of the Linguesses, and sent to work in the stone
> quarries. "What, will you RE-INVENT THE WHEEL?" cried Chumpsky, as
> the Linguesses gathered around, berating, and drove the poor man from
> the court of Phunding.

> In the stone quarries, there worked a man named Borne. He spent all
> day dragging a large load of stone from the quarry to the river, and
> the quarry to the river again. It was back-breaking work, grueling in
> the hot sun. At the quarry, Borne met the disgruntled Linguess, who
> told him of the five-sided Wheel, and his unfortunate lot. Borne
> laughed at first, but somehow could not forget the notion of the
> Wheel. One day as he labored, the sun hotter than ever, the way
> further than ever, Borne was faint and lay down beneath a tree. As he
> lay, he slipped in and out of fever, and a strange vision passed
> through his mind. He saw a man, with a larger load of stone than ever
> before, a strange apparatus behind him, and the man laughing and not
> straining at all, but having an easy time of it. And he thought he
> heard a voice say that this was a Cart.

> Borne leapt up, and was possessed with a power and a strength. He
> left his load of stone, returned to the quarry, and took up hammer and
> chisel. He would create the strange round objects beneath the Cart.
> He labored night and day with hammer and chisel. But as Borne was no
> longer working, he soon ran out of food, and money to buy supplies.
> Borne's friend, the fallen Linguess, had a suggestion. "Borne, I have
> seen that King Phunding is fond of odd and curious things such as this
> Cart you build. You must go to court and there present your vision.
> King Phunding will understand, and give you help to finish this
> wondrous device."

> Borne carefully packed his chiseled round stones, each with a hole in
> the middle to support an axle, and proceeded on the journey to the
> court of Phunding. There he was met at the first gate. "May I speak
> with King Phunding?" asked Borne. The guards laughed. "First you
> must study this book for five years," said one guard, and he slammed
> the pigeon-hole. Borne labored five years over the book, which
> explained the various types of butterflies, and how they migrate by
> the seasons. He entered the first gate.

> "May I speak to the king now, I have something he may be very
> interested in," said Borne at the second gate. The Linguesses oversaw
> this gate. "And what is that?" asked the Linguess slyly. Borne was
> excited. He had waited five years. He opened his heavy bundle. "Do
> you see here? These round objects can be placed beneath a wooden
> frame, allowing a heay load to be carried. The round objects take the
> weight, so that a heavier load than ever before might be carried,
> faster and with less strain." Several Linguesses had gathered around.
> They didn't know what to say. Then one spoke. "Why, those are
> Wheels, are they not? But you've got it all wrong, you fool. Wheels
> must be square, nature's perfect shape. You have RE-INVENTED THE
> WHEEL!" The gate slammed shut, but not before two Linguess acolytes
> had snatched Borne's bundle and drawn it within. Another book was
> thrown out upon the hapless Borne. "Read this and come back in
> another five years," said a snarling voice.

> A few days later, Chumpsky led a triumphant procession before King
> Phunding. "Why come you here?" asked the king. "Sire we have great
> news. We have discovered that Wheels may also be round, thus Wheels
> are both round and square at once, truly a mystery! We are now going
> to investigate the round square, a new discovery, which we think is
> something like a triangle. Great good tidings, sire, we have
> RE-INVENTED THE WHEEL!" Borne heard the celebrations and wine
> drinking that night, as he sat with his head buried deep within the
> book. "Perhaps this book is right, perhaps Carts are impossible,"
> Borne sighed. And perhaps Borne can be found there today, surrounded
> by books, with a long gray beard, and sighing. Or was it Borne who
> returned to the quarry, built his Cart, which then became widespread
> in use, and the Linguesses were thrown out upon their ears when king
> Phunding realized their excessive greed and folly? Perhaps this story
> has not been told, and the ending is uncertain as is life, and
> mysterious indeed more so than even round squares.

> MORAL: It is OK to re-invent the wheel, provided one knows Phunding.
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