LINGUIST List 5.298

Wed 16 Mar 1994

Disc: Mainstream Linguistics

Editor for this issue: <>


  • , Re: 5.297 Mainstream Linguistics
  • David Pesetsky, Re: 5.297 Mainstream Linguistics
  • Ian MacKay, canadian discrimination

    Message 1: Re: 5.297 Mainstream Linguistics

    Date: Wed, 16 Mar 1994 10:50:44 Re: 5.297 Mainstream Linguistics
    From: <>
    Subject: Re: 5.297 Mainstream Linguistics

    Since I have spent my entire academic career teaching much more German than linguistics, and almost all of it in a place lacking both a graduate and an undergraduate linguistics program, I have been at the fringe of linguistics the whole time -- at least, if one adopts the point of view of those fortunate enough to be in linguistics departments, or at least programs. And yet I have always primarily sought German jobs rather than linguistics ones. Why? I suppose because I agree with Karen Chung's comment that teaching language is more really linguistics because one is in direct contact with real language on a daily basis. Too much linguistic research since the Chomskyan revolution seems insipid because it is too far removed from the data. If I were a literatus (quod Deus avertat), I know I'd want to teach real live literature, *not* deconstructionism or any other literary/aesthetic theory. So when I teach linguistics, I like to deal with data from less familiar languages, where I find pre-Chomskyan structuralism much more useful as pedagogical device for getting students to appreciate the splendors of actual langauge. They love it.

    Am I antitheoretical? Far from it; I'm doing a large formal research project at the moment. But I'm using Case Grammar, or rather, trying to develop a better Case Grammar. And so I wholeheartedly concur with Paul Deane's rejoinder to Pesetsky's rebuff of complaints against the almost total dominance of GB or whatever it calls itself now in official linguistics departments. Try as I can to read and empathize with recent analyses of one phenomenon or another, I repeatedly have two responses: (1) positing yet another node, or another sort of XP (X = any upper-case letter not yet spoken for at a lower level), doesn't really explain anything, and certainly not why the rules of negation and/or inversion and/or subjectivization are different in this brand of Scandinavian than in that; and (2) the architects of such monstrosities are constructing a new set of trees that keep us from seeing the real flora and fauna that constitute the genuine forest. Yet who can tell this to a GB person? Only someone of another persuasion -- exactly whom GB people, for perfectly understandable reasons, do not want mucking up their departments, which are the only ones there are.

    No, this is not sour grapes. I'm a tenured full professor and treated not too badly by my mediocre institution. These days that's near paradise, and I know it and am grateful. But I care about linguistics. I even care about MIT, since my 16-year old son wants to go there (for engineering, not linguistics; smart kid). So I continue to work with real language, on the fringe of the civilized linguistic world (if that is not a contradiction in terms), trying to produce a better theory that will reveal rather than obscure, much as Chomsky's theories did before he got too fancy for his and our good. Maybe I'll bring it off, maybe not. If I do (and I think I already have), it may be that no one will notice. That's OK, as long as *someone* with differing views is (nearly) correct, is noticed, and is taken seriously. In the meantime I still have my real live language to deal with -- and that's what it's all about.

    Thanks, Karen. Life on the periphery ain't so bad after all, is it?

    --Leo Connolly

    Message 2: Re: 5.297 Mainstream Linguistics

    Date: Wed, 16 Mar 94 09:46:36
    From: David Pesetsky <pesetskMIT.EDU>
    Subject: Re: 5.297 Mainstream Linguistics

    Paul Deane has written:

    >Pesetsky's response may be summarized as follows: > >1. We have the right to prefer to hire people whose views we think are > *correct* and *likely to lead in interesting directions*. > >2. So stop complaining.

    And so on. This response missed my point entirely. So much for attempts at humor. So in plain language: I merely wanted to bring back into the discussion the evidently quaint notion that there are ideas at stake in linguistics, which play a major role in hiring decisions -- not just venal careerism, as seems to be implied again and again in these postings. Maybe I'm just out of date, but I don't think so.

    -David Pesetsky

    Message 3: canadian discrimination

    Date: Wed, 16 Mar 94 08:54:45 EScanadian discrimination
    From: Ian MacKay <>
    Subject: canadian discrimination

    In response to David Pesetsky's plea for "productive" grousing, whatever that is, I would like American subscribers to answer this question honestly. What if: --well over one-third of ALL professors in all institutions across the entire United States were citizens of the same ONE foreign country (let us say Japan), AND --an ADDITIONAL one-third to one-half of ALL professors had some of their post-secondary training (usually the terminal degree) in that SAME foreign country, AND --in some disciplines [and I am NOT referring to Linguistics] OVER 90% of the academic staff in the entire United States in that discipline came from, and were trained in, that same ONE foreign country?

    Would Americans be sanguine and easy-going about such a situation? Judging by the hysteria that occurs when Americans perceive foreign domination in anything, I find it hard to imagine anything less than a revolution in such circumstances. Yet, if you substitute the word "Canada" for "United States" in the above "hypothetical" scenario, it becomes reality, not make-believe.

    In view of the present situation, Canadian government reaction is mild and even-handed. (Contrary to D. Pesetsky's contribution, this is federal law, not the action of universities; in reality individual hiring committees often work extremely hard to bypass the spirit of the law, weak-kneed as it is.)

    Lest this message be misinterpreted as anti-Americanism, which it is not, instead of a reality check, which it is, let me hasten to point out that2 of my 4 degrees are from an American institution (which treated me with enormous generosity when I was I student); while a Canadian I have the right of American citizenship; and I very proudly trace my forebears through a continous line of Americans to prerevolutionary days (including major involvement in the American Revolution itself).

    Ian MacKay