LINGUIST List 8.286

Thu Feb 27 1997

Disc: Myths in linguistics

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Menzel, Peter, Myths in linguistics

Message 1: Myths in linguistics

Date: Fri, 21 Feb 1997 22:25:58 -0100
From: Menzel, Peter <>
Subject: Myths in linguistics

myths and legends

thinking back to my (honors) tutorial (lo these many years ago) on myth, I
seem to remember that
(1) a myth is an attempt at an explanation of a (usually natural)
phenomenon within a paradigm that is not necessarily scientific in our
sense, but one that uses personification, symbols, metaphor, etc. The
operative term here is "explanation", and an excellent example of a recent
myth is the reason given by the then rulers of the "Peoples' Republic of
Germany" for the errection of the infamous "wall": It was built, they
said, to keep out capitalist spies, agent-provocateurs,
counter-revolutionaries,and other undesirables of the capitalist world.

(2) a legend, on the other hand, is at least based on fact and purports to
give a factual account of a "real event". Legends can be about people,
places, events, etc. Some years ago, I inadvertently gave rise to a legend
when I told a student of mine about a comment Barbara Partee (then still
"Hall") wrote in the margin of my first syntax paper for her. "The proof
of the pudding", she wrote, "is in the eating". Some months later, another
student maintained staunchly that Chomsky had written this sentence in a
paper in which he was, once again, attacking the (neo)Bloomfildians.

I leave it to the readers of the present discussion to determine which of
the contributions were on the "myth" side and which on the "legend" side,
even though, obviously, a clear-cut distintion is not always possible since
we do invoke legends to explain purported facts.

Peter Menzel
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