LINGUIST List 5.833

Thu 21 Jul 1994

Misc: Popularizing linguistics, Linguistics-bashing

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  1. Bruce Nevin, popularizing linguistics
  2. Jacques Guy, Linguistics-bashing: lovely stuff on sci.lang

Message 1: popularizing linguistics

Date: Tue, 19 Jul 1994 13:18:53 popularizing linguistics
From: Bruce Nevin <bnevinLightStream.COM>
Subject: popularizing linguistics

The discussion of Whorf and the hypothesis that linguistic categories
influence categorial perception has been popping up in parallel to the
discussion of how to popularize linguistics, how to maintain programs in
the face of administrative cuts, how to attract students, etc. The
juxtaposition is accidental, but it ought not to be. An irony here is
that Whorf developed this particular thread of his thinking specifically
to attract students to Sapir's group. As I recall the story, he taught
Sapir's classes for a spell while Sapir was on sabbatical (and ill). See
the discussion in Regna Darnell's biography of Sapir.

A usual mode of popularizing science is to make it easy for your audience
to draw analogies to things that they do understand well (or believe that
they do). They can use the familiar domain to help them model what goes
on in the unfamiliar domain. So, language is likened to a code, or (a
current topic) extinction of languages is likened to extinction of
species. Then when the public and other lay pundits say "Oh, I get it,"
and gallop off on some ramification of the metaphor that we find not so
apt, we become unhappy with the popularization, and with the popularizer.
Whorf wasn't *really* a linguist, we say (someone here recently said), he
was just an insurance claims investigator.

To paraphrase Sapir, all analogies leak. I predict that, as
uncomfortable ramifications of the species-extinction metaphor become
entrenched in public perception of the problem of language abandonment
and language extinction there will be those among us who will resist the
metaphor and insist that linguistics is something different, something
special, something ... well ... less popularized.

It might be worth enquiring whether we have motives that stand in
contradiction to each other, and thinking about what we might do to
reconcile them at a higher level.
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Message 2: Linguistics-bashing: lovely stuff on sci.lang

Date: Thu, 21 Jul 1994 09:06:38 Linguistics-bashing: lovely stuff on sci.lang
From: Jacques Guy <>
Subject: Linguistics-bashing: lovely stuff on sci.lang

There are very entertaining things happening on sci.lang
now, and you should tune in right now if you want to
learn about how Chinese is full of Greek words (and more,
and/or vice versa). I still cannot figure out if the main
author of these seminal discoveries (Mark Hopkins) has
his tongue in his cheek, but it is on par with Abian's
"Time Has Inertia" theory, and whatsisname's theory that
the Earth orbited Saturn 6000 years ago.

There has been some minor, but nevertheless interesting,
spillage into sci.classics, wherein the authority of
Scientific American on the matter has been quoted.

And you were wondering why so much linguistics-bashing!
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