LINGUIST List 8.1472

Sun Oct 12 1997

Disc: review of Yngve

Editor for this issue: Andrew Carnie <>


  1. MILLSC, Disc: Discussion on Prof. Yngve's Views

Message 1: Disc: Discussion on Prof. Yngve's Views

Date: Thu, 9 Oct 1997 14:29:29 EST
Subject: Disc: Discussion on Prof. Yngve's Views

Having just completed a review, for a hardcopy venue, of Victor Yngve's book 
>From Grammar to Science: New Foundations for General Linguistics, I have 
read with interest the minor flood of comments that have followed in the wake 
of Vic's reply to Pius ten Hacken's review. Interestingly, nearly all of the 
dozen or so posts that I have read have consisted of conversations among 
persons who have not read the book. Not that there is anything wrong with 
this, but ...

Colin Harrison knows Yngve's work, and his comments are interesting, but I 
think there is more at work here than just dividing into theoretical camps.

To his credit, ten Hacken has read the book. His review falls easily into 
two parts. The first is a good summary of a book that is not easy to 
summarize in an internet post. The second part of the review consists of a 
critique of Yngve's view of science. In it ten Hacken relies on the work of 
numerous philosophers of science, most of whom have been (quite wisely) 
ignored by working scientists. At least since the days of the logical 
positivists, philosophers (and now others in the postmodern intellectual 
junkyard known as "Science Studies") have been telling scientists how 
scientists do science or how they should do it. Yngve is a scientist and his 
views on science are worth reading.

Steven Schaufele's comments are interesting, but they illustrate why people 
should read the book before commenting on it. Yngve is not opposed to 
abstract entities or to theoretical constructs, nor is he interested in 
bringing linguistics closer to "directly observable phenomena."

A measure of how far comments can get from the book is reflected in the 
mis-titling of the book: "From Grammar to Language." As Scott Stirling 
noted in his correction, the title actually is "From Grammar to Science." 
What Scott did not note explicitly is that LANGUAGE is one of the main 
objects that Yngve thinks should be eliminated from linguistics. Until quite 
recently, Yngve referred to linguistics as he conceived of it as "Human 
Linguistics," which he contrasted with "the Linguistics of Language." 

For Yngve, linguistics went wrong with the Stoics. According to Yngve, the 
Stoics divided their philosophy into three domains: the physical, the 
logical, and the ethical. All the modern sciences have developed, in one way 
or another, out of the physical domain. Language, however, was placed by the 
Stoics within the logical domain. Modern linguistics has consisted of an 
attempt to develop a science out of a logical domain field of study. This 
leads to what Yngve calls "domain confusions" and "mixed domain theories." 
Among the mixed domain theories Yngve would place all current approaches to 
linguistics, from Chomskyan linguistics to the alternatives, e.g. cognitive 
linguistics, suggested in the discussion currently going on.

I can't attempt to present Yngve's views with any degree of completeness or 
clarity in a post. People who want to know why Yngve replied as he did to 
ten Hacken's review would be well advised to read From Grammar to Science. 
Not everyone will agree with Yngve's views, but those who read the book will 
know what those views are.

Carl Mills
University of Cincinnati
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