LINGUIST List 8.1521

Fri Oct 24 1997

Disc: Yngve Review - Final posting

Editor for this issue: Andrew Carnie <>


  1. Victor H. Yngve, Re: Disc: Author's comment no. 2 on Yngve 1996

Message 1: Re: Disc: Author's comment no. 2 on Yngve 1996

Date: Mon, 20 Oct 1997 11:39:50 -0500 (CDT)
From: Victor H. Yngve <>
Subject: Re: Disc: Author's comment no. 2 on Yngve 1996

Disc: Author's comment no. 2 on Yngve 1996

Yngve, Victor H. (1996) From Grammar to Science: New Foundations for
General Linguistics. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins

>From Victor H. Yngve <>

0. This is further discussion following the review by Pius ten Hacken of
the above book in LINGUIST 8.1277, my reply in LINGUIST 8.1409, and several
other posts.

It is difficult to reply satisfactorily to either Prof. Schaufele (LINGUIST
8.1433) or Dan Moonhawk Alford (LINGUIST 8.1473) since much of what I might
say in reply is already in the book. I think what appears in the book will
reassure them on most accounts. Nevertheless there are a few things I could
say at this point that might be helpful.

1. Linguists (many, not all) have had as their goal for 150 to 200 years to
develop a scientific linguistics. I accept that goal. The book is the
result of several decades of research directed toward that goal. I think
our problems have their source at the level of the foundations of
linguistics. The book proposes new foundations for linguistics that differ
in important respects from those we have been familiar with. I believe
these new foundations will allow linguistics to actually achieve that goal.
If you are satisfied with the current foundations of linguistics or are not
yet ready to contemplate or read about new foundations aimed at achieving
that goal, the book is not for you.

But if you do read the book, please read it carefully and try to understand
each chapter in the context of the preceding chapters rather than in the
context of whatever linguistic or philosophical background you may bring to
the reading, as will inevitably be the case if you simply skim it or dip
into it here and there. I have spent a lot of time trying to make the book
both correct and clear in what it says. I have found that advanced
undergraduates with no science or linguistics background who studied
earlier drafts of the book carefully could come to understand it
accurately. But then they did not bring much interfering intellectual
baggage to the task.

If you believe or have suspected that the problem is not with the
foundations of linguistics but with the foundations of science itself, you
may find the book reassuring that linguistics will not have to remake
science in order to put its own house in order. I have tried to show how we
can have a linguistics that accommodates the evidence and builds only on
the evidence and the minimum assumptions and criteria of standard science,
thus providing a linguistic science fully consonant with and which can be
integrated with the rest of science.

I find it amusing that I am being asked to defend not my proposals for
linguistics, which is what the book is about, but standard science itself
as understood everywhere in departments of physics, chemistry, biology,
etc. on every college and university campus. For those who have questions
about what standard science is, may I respectfully suggest that you consult
with faculty members in any such departments who teach, preferably at the
graduate level, and preferably who are actively engaged in carrying out and
publishing scientific research, but good teachers in any case. I think many
of them would be happy to direct you to readings at the appropriate level.
Be sure to let them understand that you need to know how scientists go
about their business, not about the subject matter of any particular
science, and certainly not about quarks, quantum theory, relativity, and
other arcane areas that seem to attract philosophers wanting to understand
our place in the universe or other equally sweeping and important issues
that are of no immediate concern to linguistics.

I don't know who has been advising linguists that they should try to
understand quarks and quantum theory in order to do linguistics. That's
ridiculous. It sounds like a cruel practical joke that someone is
perpetrating for reasons that I cannot fathom. If you are really interested
in such matters, read what the physicists have to say about them, not the
philosophers, and not physicists writing philosophy. But may I assure you,
on the basis of having studied quantum mechanics, relativity, etc., under
some of the most eminent physicists, that you don't need to understand any
of this in order to do good linguistics.

What I am saying is that the abstruse areas of quantum theory and
relativity are based on the same standard foundations of science that
underlie the areas earlier understood. The difference is at the level of
subject matter, not at the level of scientific metatheory.

If you find it inconvenient or embarrassing to consult with scientists on
your own campus and are tempted to turn to the views of science coming
directly or indirectly from Chomsky instead, take care: they are not to be
trusted to give a reliable and unbiased view of science. My suggestion is
to start instead with the readable and interesting translation of Galileo
referred to in my reply to the review.

My book also incorporates a brief introduction to standard science written
especially for linguists. You could show that to scientists in other
departments and ask them to suggest additional readings to take you on from

2. Now, if I may, I would like to address some particular matters brought
up in these discussions so far.

I welcome Prof. Schaufele's efforts, and those of others conveyed to me by
email, to examine the explicit and implicit assumptions in one or more
approaches to linguistic. That's important. Having revealed them, the next
step is to question them, asking what justification we have for accepting
or retaining them, even provisionally, and this is certainly something we
can discuss.

I hope that Dan Moonhawk Alford will not be too disappointed that I cannot
accept his suggested four additional assumptions; I have had to reject
Bloomfield's assumption, too (Bloomfield knew it to be false), and I also
cannot accept the dozen or more explicit and implicit assumptions with
which Chomsky introduces his minimalist program.

However, I suspect that at least some of what Dan Moonhawk Alford's
assumptions cover can be reinterpreted and brought within the scope of the
new foundations and thus within modern standard science. But I don't know
whether he would see this as an advance in our understanding. I would.

With respect to his worry that meaning is left out of my suggestions, I
think he will see that the book does address questions of meaning, but in a
different way than is usually done.

In relation to what he says about "constructed reality," I think he will
find facilities in the new foundations for treating and accounting for the
phenomena insightfully and for distinguishing what we know from what we
don't yet know.

I was happy to see that he would include moving the picture higher on the
wall (in my example) as communicative, as I would. And I agree that it
would not be seen as linguistic on traditional views of linguistics.
However, in my view of linguistics it can be seen as linguistic, and I
think that's important as it is an example of how linguistics on the new
foundations can interface easily with other disciplines. The book gives
other details.

It's a mistake to label my view of science "Newtonian" without having read
the book or knowing what modern science is from first-hand accounts not
filtered through philosophical sunglasses. Also "scientism" is usually
taken as a derogatory term. However, I take no offense if none was intended.

Regarding whether I would say "scientific TRUTH" or "scienTIFic truth,"
read the book. You may be reassured here, too.

- -------------------------------------------------------
Victor H. Yngve Professor Emeritus,
 mailing address: Linguistics & Psychology
28 Crest Drive Dune Acres Department of Linguistics
Chesterton IN 46304 University of Chicago
phone: (219) 787-8340 1010 East 59th Street
e-mail: Chicago, IL 60637
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