LINGUIST List 5.848

Tue 26 Jul 1994

Misc: Popularization, Linguistics-bashing, Pinker's instinct

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Directory

  1. , Williams Syndrome and Modularity
  2. Laine Berman, RE: 5.840 Misc: Popularization of linguistics, Linguistics-bashing
  3. David Pesetsky, popularizers
  4. , Pinker's Language Instinct/popularization

Message 1: Williams Syndrome and Modularity

Date: Mon, 25 Jul 1994 11:40:24 Williams Syndrome and Modularity
From: <00hfstahlkebsuvc.bsu.edu>
Subject: Williams Syndrome and Modularity

I regret seeing the debate on Williams Syndrome and Modularity come to
an end. Paul Deane and Vicki Fromkin have treated us to one of the
more lucid and illuminating debates on Linguist in some time, and I
appreciate the efforts of both.

Herb Stahlke
Ball State University
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Message 2: RE: 5.840 Misc: Popularization of linguistics, Linguistics-bashing

Date: Mon, 25 Jul 1994 12:26:34 RE: 5.840 Misc: Popularization of linguistics, Linguistics-bashing
From: Laine Berman <gt6qcqcvaxa.acc.qc.edu>
Subject: RE: 5.840 Misc: Popularization of linguistics, Linguistics-bashing

>from their works. If we want popularization, we must not condemn it for
>being popularization, nor must we condemn it for not adhering to the
intricacies of the most current theoretical vogue. Indeed, we must not
even require that a popularizing work be a surveylike introduction to
all facets (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics....
A popular book is not a text book, and in return text books do not become
popular. I found much in Lancelot and Mario and Margaret to reinforce my
junior high impressio;n that language was interesting and fun. Schwa
secundum and x-bar came later.

Ki semenat ispinaza, non andet iskultsu!

J. A. Rea jareaukcc.uky.edu
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Message 3: popularizers

Date: Tue, 26 Jul 94 11:14:49
From: David Pesetsky <pesetskMIT.EDU>
Subject: popularizers

A recent note to Linguist by J.A.Rea admonishes those of us who hope for the
greater popularization of linguistics not to be too hard on the popularizers
when they fall into error. His mention of Bodmer and Hogben's "The Loom of
Language" (1944, reprinted 1967) sent me on an unexpected stroll down memory
lane. Since that very book got me interested in linguistics, the message had
great personal appeal. I supposed therefore I should take his admonishments to
heart -- and yet...

Something in the back of my mind reminded me that there was a problem. What was
it? I took the book from my shelf for the first time in 20 years or so, and it
all came back to me.

What, for example, do Chinese, Hindi, Arabic and Celtic have in common? Answer:
they all demonstrate "The Diseases of Language". Celtic's problem is the
mutations, ranked a "debit" that outweighs the advantages conferred by the low
level of inflection and the "thrifty use of verbs". Chinese's problem is
homophony (deemed a "disability" of the language). Arabic's problem is all that
skeletal phonology.

What do we need to know about Bantu classifiers?

 "Only in a relatively static society at a primitive level of
 culture with little division of labor could classificatory
 particles retain a clear-cut function. Migration and civilization
 bring human beings into new situations which call for new
 vocables. These do not necessarily fall into any pre-existing
 niche of a classificatory system. In fact, languages
 of the classificatory type are confined to communities which used
 neither script nor the plow before contact with white men...[t]he
 habit of labelling all name words with one of a limited number of
 affixes is not confined to the Bantu family. It is widely
 distributed among unrelated languages spoken by static and
 backward commuinties throughout the world." (pp.205-207)

And so on. I'm a bit less sentimental now.

Let's be kind to popularizers, but let's not forget that even popular books have
an obligation to get it right. I suspect that even in 1944 (non-Marrist)
linguists could have taught the authors of The Loom of Language a thing or two
that would have improved the book.

-David Pesetsky
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Message 4: Pinker's Language Instinct/popularization

Date: Tue, 26 Jul 1994 12:02 ESTPinker's Language Instinct/popularization
From: <HORNINGargo.acs.oakland.edu>
Subject: Pinker's Language Instinct/popularization

After all the discussion on LINGUIST about Pinker and the popularization of
linguistics, I am surprised by two things, having read most of the book:

1)Why is it that no one has mentioned the fact that in addition to being
insightful and well-written, Pinker's book is just plain funny?

2)Why is it that no one has had much to say about Ray Jackendoff's equally
interesting and insightful book of similar type to Pinker's?

Alice Horning
Linguistics
Oakland University
Rochester, MI 48309
Horningargo.acs.oakland.edu
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