LINGUIST List 3.101

Mon 03 Feb 1992

Disc: Proto-World (Part 2)

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Michael Newman, Re: 3.87 Proto-World
  2. "Norval Smith, RE: 3.87 Proto-World
  3. Geoffrey Russom, Re: 3.87 Scientific American
  4. Stavros Macrakis, Historical linguistics is `out'
  5. Swann Philip, 3.87 Proto-World

Message 1: Re: 3.87 Proto-World

Date: Fri, 31 Jan 92 19:13:07 ESRe: 3.87 Proto-World
From: Michael Newman <MNEHCCUNYVM.CUNY.EDU>
Subject: Re: 3.87 Proto-World

I think Andrew Carnie made a good point. I think that perhaps the popular
science press ignores what we consider the central issues of linguistics becuas
e these problems just aren't sexy to those outside the discipline. This may (or
it may not) be related to the fact that during academic financial crises it
seems all too frequent for linguistics departments to get closed, and that
unlike the case of what happens in Europe, in the US, courses in linguistics
are not considered a central part of most university majors which deal with
language, such as foreign languages, English or Communications. Why?
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Message 2: RE: 3.87 Proto-World

Date: Mon, 3 Feb 92 10:18 MET
From: "Norval Smith <>
Subject: RE: 3.87 Proto-World

Scientific American/Proto-World

In reply to Andrew Carnie's remark about Scientific American's publication
of linguistics-related articles I by chance had within four feet a copy
of Scientific American (July 1983) containing an article by Derek
Bickerton on Creole Languages in which the innateness hypothesis features
prominently. That said I have to admit that the choice of the occasional
article that the S.A. publishes on linguistics does not inspire
confidence in the editors' advisors whoever these might be.

Norval Smith
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Message 3: Re: 3.87 Scientific American

Date: Fri, 31 Jan 92 14:19:20 ESRe: 3.87 Scientific American
From: Geoffrey Russom <>
Subject: Re: 3.87 Scientific American

Perhaps one problem with SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN is its sentimental
attachment to good old 19th-century American positivism. I am particularly
struck by a certain fondness for the word "machine," used to describe
complex biological systems, human minds, etc. To me (and I think to most
poeple) a "machine" is something made of macroscopic, even clunky, parts
that interact in rather simple, Newtonian ways. In that sense, the
"mechanical" metaphor isn't really applicable even to computers that
depend on non-Newtonian properties of elementary particles. And of
course it's pretty clear that we aren't going to have talking robots
whose heads can be opened up to reveal wires and 12SL7 power tubes.
Anybody have any insight into the persistence of the "machine" metaphor?
Are we still a nation of tinkerers? Any gender issues here?

-- Rick
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Message 4: Historical linguistics is `out'

Date: Fri, 31 Jan 92 15:38:29 ESHistorical linguistics is `out'
From: Stavros Macrakis <>
Subject: Historical linguistics is `out'

In Linguist 3.87, Andrew Carnie (acarnieAthena.MIT.EDU) says:

 ...It concerns me that [Sci.Am.] should be presenting [the ProtoWorld
 hypothesis] at all. The popular press seems to be under the mistaken
 opinion that Historical Linguistics is the mainstream in linguistic
 thought; ... its about time that Scientific American and its
 ilk start publishing articles about issues that are of interest to the
 majority of linguists.

When I was an undergraduate at MIT, you had to cross-register at Harvard to
study historical linguistics, evolutionary and organismic biology, and
social psychology, not to mention art history. After all, the only `real'
linguistics is transformational, the only `real' biology is molecular, the
only `real' psychology is brain science; as for art history, .... Now if
only Scientific American (and let's not forget `its ilk') could be
persuaded to cover only `real' science, as defined by the `mainstream of
scientific thought'.... After all, everyone knows that Scientific American
is written for those mainstream scientists who want to hear what other
mainstream scientists are studying.

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Message 5: 3.87 Proto-World

Date: Mon, 3 Feb 1992 15:19:58 +3.87 Proto-World
From: Swann Philip <>
Subject: 3.87 Proto-World

I'm not sure it's really fair to describe Scientific American as part
of the 'popular science press' - the articles are nearly always written
by the researchers who did the original work, not by journalists.

Interestingly, the only reference to Language in the 1991 index of 'Nature'
is to a discussion of Language Origins by Robert Foley (vol 353, 114-15).
He refers to Cavalli-Sforza and reprints a figure from the 1988 paper.
His main topic, 'though, is a fascinating paper by Nobel and Davidson
(Man, 26, 223-54) on the probable date for the emergence of language in
hominids (circa 40,000 years ago). If 'Nature' thinks that the discussion
is worth recording, then linguists should perhaps hesitate before dismissing
it as pseudo-science (people in glass houses ...).

Philip Swann
University of Geneva
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