LINGUIST List 7.1596

Mon Nov 11 1996

Disc: Psychologism in linguistics

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. Esa Itkonen, Psychologism in linguistics

Message 1: Psychologism in linguistics

Date: Thu, 07 Nov 1996 18:33:34 +0200
From: Esa Itkonen <>
Subject: Psychologism in linguistics

	Since Professor Shaumyan views language as a set of
socialconventions (or norms), he is correct to claim that a language
is a ('semiotic') entity not reducible to psychology (of language). At
least, this remains the case as long as (what) OUGHT (to be said) has
not been reduced to (what) IS (said). Classical argumentts against
psychologism were given by Frege and Husserl, but in this they were
preceded by Pierre Abaelard and others (as documented in my 1991 book
Universal History of Linguistics). Of course, psychology of language
remains a research object in its own right.
	Martin Kusch doubts the cogency of the anti-psychologist
arguments. This is interesting, given that in 1996 he has
published a paper defending the view according to which languages
qua Popperian world-3 entities should be interpreted as social
institutions (constituted by sets of conventions) which exist if
and only if they are known to exist. (As my good friend Martin
well knows, this is the view expounded in my 1978 book
Grammatical Theory and Metascience.)
	Robert Beard claims that the analogy between mathematics and
(autonomous) linguistics is imperfect. First, this is quite true
insofar as linguistics is a descriptive undertaking whereas
mathematics is a prescriptive undertaking (in the sense that it
enables us to calculate better than we did before). But second, it is
not true that - as Beard assumes - children have language but no
mathematics. On the one hand, children do have SOME mathematics (as
has been documented by a huge number of developmental studies). On the
other, children do NOT have language (in the sensse of socially valid
conventions), simply because they are only learning it (i.e. are
learning, have not [yet] learned).
	Stefan Frisch points out that languages are constrained by the
anatomical constitution of individual human beings. Certainly. But
this is true of all social institutions, not just language. Just think
of what the institution of money would look like if humans were
entirely different from what they are now.
	If I understand him correctly, Sterling Newberry argues that
once we possess a not-yet-existent type of psychology, it will refute
anti-psychologism. In fact I have heard an eminent representative of
cognitive linguistics make an even bolder claim: because cognitive
psychology of today has vastly surpassed the psychology of Frege's and
Husserl's time, anti-psychologism is wrong already today. I
disagree. There still remains the (according to Frege)
"never-to-be-bridged gap" between OUGHT and IS.

Esa Itkonen	
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