LINGUIST List 6.1078

Fri Aug 11 1995

Re: 1053, English only (bilingualism)

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  1. Alexis Manaster Ramer, The theoretical significance of Russian in Finland

Message 1: The theoretical significance of Russian in Finland

Date: Thu, 10 Aug 1995 18:11:59 The theoretical significance of Russian in Finland
From: Alexis Manaster Ramer <amrCS.Wayne.EDU>
Subject: The theoretical significance of Russian in Finland

It is is gratifying to have Paul Kiparsky confirm what I had
predicted purely theoretically and w/o any data had to be the
case, namely, that the Russian authorities did for a time
attempt to impose the use of Russian in Finland, contrary to
what had been claimed in some earlier postings on LINGUIST.

My reasoning was based on the basic principle that like causes
produce like effects in linguistics and linguistic policy as
in anything else, and that since the Russian authorities did
do this in Poland in the same period, it would be astonishing
if they did not try it in Finland.

But this basic uniformitarian principle seems to be under attack
in different areas of linguistics itself, and so this is a good
opportunity to reassert its universal applicability in any
science, incl. linguistics. For example, we must assume that
the same laws of linguistic change which applied after the breakup
of Proto-Indo-European to its descedant languages must also be
assume to have applied in the (pre)history of the Altaic languages
as well as in the linguistic prehistory of the ancestor language(s)
of Indo-European (whether we call it Nostratic or not). But this
is precisely what seems to be widely ignored or even denied by
many linguists today, for no reason I can discern other than
reluctance to accept the consequences of sticking to the uniformi-
tarian principle in these cases. Likewise, it seems to me that
all too often things get proposed and accepted in synchronic
linguistics which are impossible if we believe in uniformitarianism,
e.g., that rules of versification in Old Norse or in Vedic had
access to abstract phonological representations, even though they
do not have such access in languages in general.

Or consider the ongoing discussion of the "unmarked" uses of
"he" in English, where it seems that there exists a whole
line of inquiry into this topic which ignores the existence of
languages other than English.

Or any number of other topics in and around linguistics.

Uniformitarianism, I have read, is a rather recent idea in the
history of science, so perhaps it is not strange that we seem
to have trouble abiding by its tenets sometimes, but by the
same token it is recent enough to be worth talking about as
a topic of current interest.

Alexis Manaster Ramer
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