LINGUIST List 8.1473

Sun Oct 12 1997

Disc: Discussion of Yngve Review

Editor for this issue: Andrew Carnie <>


  1. Dan Moonhawk Alford, Re: 8.1409, Disc: Author's reply to Review of Yngve 1996

Message 1: Re: 8.1409, Disc: Author's reply to Review of Yngve 1996

Date: Sun, 12 Oct 1997 15:25:02 -0400 (EDT)
From: Dan Moonhawk Alford <>
Subject: Re: 8.1409, Disc: Author's reply to Review of Yngve 1996

By the following remarks, I mean in no way to 
minimize Yngve's work; in fact, I intend to find and 
buy the book, thereby encouraging him to continue. 
His notion of science, however, is only an important 
HALF of what 20th Century science is, by his
conveniently omitting the relativity and quantum 
insights which have transformed Newtonianism to just 
an important half of the whole picture, and only half 
of what linguistics is and has been guided toward by 
our most distinguished thinkers. Until the linguistic 
method became accepted, there was nothing that even 
pretended to the label 'science' that gave meaning its 
equal share. Now Yngve and others want us to dismiss 
meaning altogether and retrench into being a 
Newtonian science which abhors meaning--a mere half 
pretending to be the whole. For Yngve, there is no 
obvious place whatever for meaning in the four 
assumptions of science.

Retrenchment to Newtonian Scientism
	I define scientism as that attitude based on an 
outmoded Newtonian science resting on materialism 
alone, which refuses to move toward a full recognition 
of the complementary balance of form and meaning 
that has been happening in physics--surely science 
par excellence--since the beginning of this century 
(meaning is currently allowed in quantum physics 
under the phrase "The X Interpretation," where facts 
assume different importance and scope, and 
therefore different meaning, depending on the 
Interpretation), and in linguistics for much longer. It is 
precisely the balance or harmony of form and meaning 
which suggests linguistics, the first to codify such 
interrelationships as equally true objects of study 
simultaneously, as a model of 21st Century 
Complementary Science, in which all sciences will 
have to allow form and meaning each its due, 
especially given that much of meaning resides in 
context/environment. The real physical world is a 
very important part of the total picture -- but so is 
meaning. The real world is not our total world, and 
frankly, as far as language is concerned, we live more 
in the meaning than the physical part (as when our 
consciousness blips over uhs, ums, false starts and 
other forms as we follow the stream of intended 

Constructed Reality
> It was not reality but philosophy that the Stoics 
> divided. This may reflect a confusion about reality, 
> possibly stemming from confusions in the 
> philosophical literature where 'reality' is 
> sometimes unreal or in the social-science literature 
> where 'reality' is sometimes 'constructed'.

I'm confused by this characterization of constructed 
reality and the difference implied for Yngve's own use of 
the term 'reality', which I take to be short for 
'physical reality' (kind of the way linguists use 
'language' as a shorthand term for 'human language,'
the fallacy of which can be seen as the pomposity 
leaks out of the sentence "Language sets apart 
humans from the animals" when the so-called 
equivalent phrase "Human language" is substituted). 
Lets take three things that are very physical -- 
rainbows, overcoming our retinal blind spot, and 
color--all of which are constructed.

Unlike trees falling in the forest, rainbows do not 
exist unless someone is in exactly the right position 
with the sun to create them. Seeing a rainbow clearly 
is an act of constructed reality, as is our everyday 
wonder of seeing the world without a big blind spot in 
our field of vision (since the nerve does not pick up 
light falling on the part of the eye where it 
attaches) -- our brain constructs what we see, even 
filling in the blind spot; there is nothing causal about 
what frequencies come in to our eyes and therefore 
what we see. Here's a simple physical fact: molecules 
do not have color. Yet most of us see in joyous 
technicolor as our brain constructs colors from the 
frequency realities we are processing and projects 
them outward onto objects. So we construct the colors 
of the rainbow as well as the rainbow itself. Evidently, 
none of these facts are to be considered in proper 
science because it's just some social science 'construct'. 

When 'A' Becomes 'The'
	I'm very concerned when "there is A real world out 
there" becomes, in a kind of academic sleight of 
hand, "THE real world", implying that only it is worthy 
of study. Another sleight of hand is found in Yngve's 
use of legitimate to mean scientific in a Newtonian 
sense, as in If one wishes to claim that several 
different approaches to linguistics from different 
perspectives may be legitimate, each must adhere 
only to the standard criteria of science and accept 
only the standard assumptions of science, leaving 
only scientism as legitimate, since he takes that word 
to mean 'legitimate AS (Newtonian) SCIENCE' and 
allows for no other meaning, as if the 20th Century advances
in his own discipline never happened.

No Place for Indigenous Science Either
	Yngve makes a big deal out of natural sciences, 
but we must remember that ancient indigenous 
knowledge need not apply to this Old Boys Club. As 
physicist David Peat has written in his _Lighting the 
Seventh Fire_:

The point ... is not so much to criticize Western 
science for not measuring up to its abstract and 
rather grandiose ideals, but rather to drop our 
obsession with these ideals and comparisons and 
suggest that indigenous science presents a valid 
understanding of nature in its own right. (p248)

That is, perhaps there are analogous assumptions
that must be balanced with the four in order to 
capture wider truths.

Using that terminology, then, I might say that the 
first assumption of indigenous science is that there is 
also a real world "in here" as well as "out there" that 
must be accounted for--a world linguists refer to as 
meaning, indigenous people call spirit (as we say the 
spirit of the law, not the letter), and most modern 
physicists call quantum. The second assumption is a 
chaos assumption, that the only constant is flux and 
any regularities are temporary illusion; you can't step 
in the same river twice, as Heraclitus said. The third 
assumption is that there is no universal human logic, 
that logic depends on the specific language you use, 
and each language grows its own logic; therefore 
proof in one language does not guarantee anything 
about reality, no matter what definition you use. 
And the fourth assumption is that everything is 
interconnected, points in a system, where meaning 
derives from relationships in part/whole structure, 
not mere entities and things. Here's the tricky part: 
neither Yngve's assumptions nor mine tell the whole 
story; each must be adhered to scrupulously in 
complementary fashion even though they seem 
contradictory. Western science is biased toward form as 
Indigenous science is biased toward meaning; together a 
meaning-full balance can be achieved which precludes neither
(as being 'particle' no longer precludes being 'waves').

Whorf Bashing Explained
	Yngve says "Science routinely casts doubt on any 
proposed additional assumptions. Efforts would be 
made to convert them into hypotheses and test them. 
If they did not survive the tests they would be given 
up. If they could not even be tested, they would not be 
accepted into science but, at best, placed in the realm 
of interesting speculation." This is an excellent 
description of exactly what the social sciences have 
done to Benjamin Whorf (their own hypotheses being 
mislabeled The Whorf Hypothesis) at the same time that 
hard scientists like David Bohm were taking Whorf 
seriously (read his _Wholeness and the Implicate 
Order_ while keeping Whorf's "An American Indian 
Model of the Universe" in mind). Einstein already
proved in relativity that the language you use 
(Euclidean vs. non-euclidean geometries) affects 
what you observe, which he got primarily from a 
Humboldtian-trained relativity linguist named Jost 
Winteler, and which Whorf was trying to reclaim for 
linguistics from physics. Does Einstein's insight have 
no place in Yngve's science?

Truth, Communication, and Models
	The phrase "scientific truth" is a truly amazing 
phrase in print, since stress is not represented: I must 
assume that for Yngve it would be stressed as 
"scientific TRUTH", though for me it would be 
"scienTIFic truth", as in one of many truths instead of 
the only.

> ...the people who communicate, including their
> "noncommunicative" behavior. The new foundations
> can indeed make use of such "nonlinguistic" 
> evidence.

I was quite thrown by the use of noncommunicative 
to mean non-linguistic as if they are equivalent. 
Moving the picture higher (Ys example) is quite clearly 
communicative although nonlinguistic. Since 
linguists generally use language to be shorthand for 
human language and call what animals do nonlinguistic
communication, it's not fair to now take non-
linguistic to mean noncommunicative as well. 
Nonlinguistic acts still communicate, for humans as 
well as animals.

If "Models in science are models of something in the 
real world (sic)", by which Yngve means the merely 
physical world, then what are quantum models models 
of? Or are they not important to physicists?

In conclusion, I like others in the Humboldtian 
(-Boasian-Sapirian-Whorfian) approach to linguistics 
insist on a new science that balances form and 
meaning, not a retrenchment to meaning-less 
Newtonianism. Then again, I havent yet read Yngve's 
book, only his reply; perhaps he treats adequately the 
quantum/meaning realm in his book and it just didnt 
come up in his reply. I can hope.

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