LINGUIST List 7.260

Sun Feb 18 1996

Disc: Journal Costs, Linguistics and millennium

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. Richard Ingham, Re: 7.208, Moderating
  2. Brigitte Nerlich, Linguistics and millennium (3)

Message 1: Re: 7.208, Moderating

Date: Fri, 16 Feb 1996 08:56:38 GMT
From: Richard Ingham <>
Subject: Re: 7.208, Moderating
Just Musing

There's always a bit of a tension between two positions implied by
people such as the author of the Shuly Wintner's LINGUIST posting on
machine-readable journals'.

	Stone to stick to papyrus to paper to disk to... you can't
stop progress because:

	Things we want (jobs, information etc.) are always going to be
there, whatever the technology, because:


Maybe that's why some people are sceptical.
	As far as journals are concerned, surely they could be made
more economically viable by being printed on recycled paper.

Richard Ingham
Department of Linguistic Science
University of Reading
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Message 2: Linguistics and millennium (3)

Date: Wed, 14 Feb 1996 12:16:05 GMT
From: Brigitte Nerlich <>
Subject: Linguistics and millennium (3)
Linguistics, rigour and reality

In our previous mailings to the Linguist List under the heading
"Linguistics and the millennium" we posed the questions, in a
deliberately naive form "Has linguistics been making real discoveries
about language?" and "Could the facts so discovered be presented in a
format like the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for Young People
(most recently on Geology)" [Our wish has been fulfilled in a way by
the Reith-lectures given by Jean Aitchison!] Since, then, the
responses by Dan Moonhawk Alford and Deborah Ruskaanen and others have
introduced a new issue: "Is linguistics a science?" Is it a 'real'
science? Should it be like a [real] science? And should it emulate
'real' sciences by trying to be as RIGOROUS as these sciences? If
linguistics wants to be a science like geology for example, then we
first have to establish if there is anything 'out there' that
linguistics can make discoveries about. So, the next question comes
along: What is the link between linguistics and REALITY? This question
can mean two things. We might want to know if there is a reality to
language and what kind of reality is it. Or we might want to know
whether and how language creates our moral, sociological and cultural
reality. To give an approximate answer to the first question, one
could say that the kind of reality that language has is that it is
something that occurs and not something that exists - it is a
collection of things that people do and only has generalities insofar
as people behave in generally consistent ways. As Moonhawk says in a
reply not posted on the LINGUIST: "Yes, as with a recent posting about
Saussure on the Linguist List, reality is only in the dynamic process
of co-creation by relationship (well, paraphrasing with my own spin);
we constitute our own language and come to find that it is already
constituted; this connects with the founder of Linguistics, W. von
Humboldt's notion of language as an invisible envelope we are in and
is in us, which in today's physics parlance would be classed as a
field." Linking linguistics with modern physics, the so called 'queen
of sciences', and not with the more humble geology, is a matter that I
would like to leave to Moonhawk. However, it might be a good idea to
assess which sciences have and could inspire linguistics and vice
versa - biology and geology in the 19th century (when the
neogrammarians sought rigour by borrowing ideas and methods from these
sciences), mathematics and quantum physics in the 20th century? Let us
come back to the more general issue as to what it means for a science
to be scientific. Is it that we measure things, quantify things, do
experiments, that we are, more generally speaking, systematic in our
research, that we are rigorous? There is certainly no ONE essential
definition of SCIENCE (we are dealing here rather with family
resemblances, prototypes, etc.) Can there be disciplines that are
rigorous without being 'sciences'? Is it a question of putting forward
competing explanatory propositions about matters in the real world and
evaluating them by objectively repeatable and publicly acceptable
criteria? And so on. The question is: Can linguistics find its own
definition of science, rigour and reality or is it inevitable that
there should be several in part overlapping, in part competing ones?

Brigitte Nerlich & David Clarke

Dr Brigitte Nerlich
Department of Psychology,
University of Nottingham,
Nottingham NG7 2RD,

Phone 0115 951 5361 Ext 8341; home:0115 9287317
FAX 0115 951 5324
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