The Epistemology of Linguistics

mwpalmer
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Re: The Epistemology of Linguistics

Post by mwpalmer » December 23rd, 2011, 11:32 pm

Kari:

You raise several issues worthy of comment. It is certainly true that sociolinguistics lies on the border between Linguistics and Sociology. I have no disagreement with you on this point. To conclude that sociolinguistics is not really Linguistics proper, though, is more than I would claim. The existence of such hybrid fields simply illustrates that the field of linguistics is very broad and its borders overlap a number of other well established fields of inquiry. What you describe as "Linguistics proper" is what has been the focus of my own career, by the way. I am not a sociolinguist.

I agree with Mike Aubrey that the history of Linguistics began long before Saussure, though Saussure's work did popularize the use of the term "Linguistics" to describe the field and informed much of the discussion in the years that followed.

The tendency to apply Latin categories to the description of other languages is a serious one in the history of attempts to write grammars of various European languages. I don't think it's really fair, though, to attribute that problem to the field of Philology. That field today includes many people with significant training in Linguistics. Perhaps a discussion of the relationship between Philology and Historical Linguistics would make an interesting topic of discussion at another time, as long as we could focus that discussion on the benefits of these fields for the study of Biblical Greek. [No. I'm not suggesting we start that discussion now.]

My main point in my earlier post that sparked your response was simply that the field of Linguistics is broad. I used as an example its overlap with a number of other fields. I could clearly have chosen other ways to illustrate the breadth of the field, though. Some of the Linguists who contribute to B-Greek would describe themselves as functionalist. Others would not. Some Linguists see the aim of the field as an explanation of the brain's ability to acquire and process language, while others see the aim of the field as the accurate description of individual languages and their differences. These are legitimate differences between professional Linguists, not simply poor understandings of the field.

Thank you for challenging my weak attempt to express this earlier.
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Micheal W. Palmer

karivalkama
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Re: The Epistemology of Linguistics

Post by karivalkama » December 24th, 2011, 9:44 am

Hi mwpalmer and MAubrey,

Thanks for your responses.

I wrote a long response, but when I pressed the Preview button, I had to log in again and I lost it.

Since I do not want to write it again, here are my main points:
I stand corrected concerning my too broad attribution of fault to philologists. I should have clarified that I meant it to be taken historically. Descriptive linguistics offered a much needed correction to the diachronic and prescriptive philology of last century and before.

Every field of science has subfields and fields which are intersections between neighboring fields. Linguistics proper is not a term of evaluation, it is a term of explanation. Neurology is a field of science. Neurolinguistics is not bad science, it just happens to be science that exists at the intersection of two fields of science. Thus even though by definition it is not linguistics or neurology proper, it does not mean that it is bad. In the same way sociolinguistics exists at the intersection between sociology and linguistics. I think the sociolinguists themselves would agree that it is not linguistics proper or sociology proper, but at the intersection between two fields of science. I think there is a confusion of what X proper means. It is just a way of stating the prototypical area of a field of science. What I tried to assert is, that that state of affairs does not make linguistics confusing for linguists, nor for the common man. But common man often confuses linguistics with philology.

When I used a term langue, which was coined by Saussure, I made no assertions about the birth of modern linguistics. I was simply quoting a term used by Saussure. Had I used a term coined by Chomsky, you might have claimed that I think that Chomsky was the father of modern linguistics. Please do not read into my comments more than there is.

I think the definition of linguistics as a study of language as a system is quite broad and standard. Language as a system consists of subsystems like phonology, morphology, syntax, discourse, semantics, and pragmatics. I have a Ph.D. in linguistics, so I would be very interested in hearing of a definition of linguistics that contradicts that definition, which by no means is my definition.

My example of the Finnish grammar was done by philologists and not by theologians, so the counter argument, that it is the theologians that should be blamed, lacks veracity.

Yours,
Kari
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karivalkama
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Re: The Epistemology of Linguistics

Post by karivalkama » December 24th, 2011, 10:01 am

One more thing about philologists to MAubrey,

Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philipp_Karl_Buttmann) has this to say of a philologist:
"Philipp Karl Buttmann (1764–1829), German philologist, was born at Frankfurt am Main.
He was educated in his native town and at the university of Göttingen. In 1789 he obtained an appointment in the library at Berlin, and for some years he edited Spener's Journal. In 1796 he became professor at the Joachimsthal Gymnasium in Berlin, a post which he held for twelve years. In 1806 he was admitted to the Academy of Sciences, and in 1811 was made secretary of the Historico-Philological Section.
Buttmann's writings gave a great impetus to the scientific study of the Greek language. His Griechische Grammatik (1792) went through many editions, and was translated into English. His Lexilogus, a valuable study on some words of difficulty occurring principally in the poems of Homer and Hesiod, was published in 1818–1825, and was translated into English."

Mike Aubrey in his blog EN EFESO, writes that Buttman in his grammar wrote:
"The section on tense begins with the rather odd statement, “As the pres., imperf., perf.,plusq., and the fut. of the Greek verb, agree in the main with the same tenses in other languages, we shall only elucidate the aor. And the fut. 3. of the pass.”

Thus Buttman thought that Greek present, imperfect, perfect, pluperfect and the future are the same as in other languages. And that aorist differs from other languages. Ergo, some philologists had the wrong idea about aorist, which caused some theologians to have a wrong idea about aorist.

Since I believe you know Mike extremely well, I suggest that you consult him concerning this matter. ;)

Yours,
Kari
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David Lim
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Re: The Epistemology of Linguistics

Post by David Lim » December 24th, 2011, 10:58 am

karivalkama wrote:I wrote a long response, but when I pressed the Preview button, I had to log in again and I lost it.
If redirected to the log-in page, pressing the "Back" button immediately usually allows us to copy out the text from the form, just in case it happens to anyone else. :)
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δαυιδ λιμ

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Re: The Epistemology of Linguistics

Post by MAubrey » December 24th, 2011, 12:51 pm

karivalkama wrote:I think the definition of linguistics as a study of language as a system is quite broad and standard. Language as a system consists of subsystems like phonology, morphology, syntax, discourse, semantics, and pragmatics. I have a Ph.D. in linguistics, so I would be very interested in hearing of a definition of linguistics that contradicts that definition, which by no means is my definition.


Any definition that so emphasizes language as a system will fail as a definition because systematicization is only one side of the coin and any linguist and focuses on the system to the neglect of variation and change will fail at their work. Any definition that deals only with langue and not parole is an inadequate one.
karivalkama wrote:When I used a term langue, which was coined by Saussure, I made no assertions about the birth of modern linguistics. I was simply quoting a term used by Saussure. Had I used a term coined by Chomsky, you might have claimed that I think that Chomsky was the father of modern linguistics. Please do not read into my comments more than there is.
You're quite right. I read your words too fast. My mistake. But I would still emphasize that any definition of linguistics that only deals with langue is inadequate--and many linguists reject the distinction between langue and parole entirely (e.g. Paul Hopper).
karivalkama wrote:Mike Aubrey in his blog EN EFESO, writes that Buttman in his grammar wrote:
"The section on tense begins with the rather odd statement, “As the pres., imperf., perf.,plusq., and the fut. of the Greek verb, agree in the main with the same tenses in other languages, we shall only elucidate the aor. And the fut. 3. of the pass.”

Thus Buttman thought that Greek present, imperfect, perfect, pluperfect and the future are the same as in other languages. And that aorist differs from other languages. Ergo, some philologists had the wrong idea about aorist, which caused some theologians to have a wrong idea about aorist.
Kari, maybe you should read his entire grammar before you make such a judgment. Buttmann states that the aorist in the default narrative tense about two paragraphs down further--more over he anticipates the concepts of foreground(online) vs. background(offline) narrative 150+ years before contemporary linguists began talking about those concepts with reference to tense-aspect. He may not have had the modern descriptive apparatus for the work, but he clearly understands the language. Read Buttmann in his context, both literary and historical. A grammar itself is a communicative act to a specific audience at a specific time and Buttmann's grammar isn't written to you. Even if you were correct about Buttmann--and you're not--it wouldn't be evidence for your claim because theologians didn't use Buttmann. They used Winer. Buttmann's grammar is a Classical Grammar that doesn't touch on NT Greek at all.

As for Finnish, well, I won't argue with you there. But I would encourage you not to believe that situations are parallel between Greek and Finnish. As I understand it, the neo-grammarians and comparativists didn't know what to do with Finnish at all. It wasn't Germanic, it wasn't Slavic. It wasn't Indo-European at all. From there perspective, the idea that there would be more than eight cases was probably a bit shocking. But I would still wonder about whether the fact that Latin categories were applied to Finnish has anything to do with the "philologists" or more to do with teaching grammars--which are always far, far more problematic than reference grammar. I would be curious about what early Uralic linguists (like Georg Stiernhielm), wrote compared to the examples you've mentioned.
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karivalkama
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Re: The Epistemology of Linguistics

Post by karivalkama » December 24th, 2011, 4:30 pm

Hi MAubrey,

Thanks for you response.

I stand corrected concerning Buttman. I do not have his grammar, so I only know the part you quoted. That contained an obvious and elementary mistake concerning aorist, so I too hastily thought that his grammar was not up to linguistic standards.

You said:
"Any definition that deals only with langue and not parole is an inadequate one."
I do not quite understand where you get the notion that studying language as a system can be done without studying parole. (Please go easy on ascribing opinions to me that I do not recognize as mine and which are nonsense to me.) That is the same as saying that linguistics can be done without studying linguistic data. Thus whatever Paul Hopper thinks, he and I most probably agree concerning the fact that linguistics studies language as a system. You seem to create distinctions and problems where none exist. You also seem to assume too much and draw conclusions too fast about what I must think and assert. May be you like to shoot from the hip. That is not good scientific practice. Please stop it.

Based on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergent_grammar), Hopper and I are in agreement that "rules for grammar and syntactic structure emerge as language is used". This is in opposition to Chomsky and innate UG.

Yours,
Kari
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karivalkama
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Re: The Epistemology of Linguistics

Post by karivalkama » December 24th, 2011, 4:32 pm

To David Lim,

Thanks for your advice.
It happened to me again, and I was saved by your advice.

Yours,
Kari
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MAubrey
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Re: The Epistemology of Linguistics

Post by MAubrey » January 13th, 2012, 2:59 pm

karivalkama wrote:Hi MAubrey,

Thanks for you response.

I stand corrected concerning Buttman. I do not have his grammar, so I only know the part you quoted. That contained an obvious and elementary mistake concerning aorist, so I too hastily thought that his grammar was not up to linguistic standards.
Only on the basis of your interpretation of his words. And I say your interpretation is wrong.
karivalkama wrote:You said:
"Any definition that deals only with langue and not parole is an inadequate one."
I do not quite understand where you get the notion that studying language as a system can be done without studying parole.
I don't have that notion.
karivalkama wrote:(Please go easy on ascribing opinions to me that I do not recognize as mine and which are nonsense to me.)
All I have is your written words. I do my best to interpret them, but because...

1) Neither of us knows the other's background particularly well.
2) We're not speaking in person where clarifications can be make far more quickly

...I am most definitely not guaranteed to know the thoughts and assumptions that stand beyond your words. Little of what you have said thus far is limited to a single interretation and I've tried to do my best in understanding you and will admit failure on that front.

karivalkama wrote:You said:
"Any definition that deals only with langue and not parole is an inadequate one."
I do not quite understand where you get the notion that studying language as a system can be done without studying parole. That is the same as saying that linguistics can be done without studying linguistic data.
Let's define langue and parole then (if only to make sure we're using the same definitions). That seems to be one of the major problems here. You and I seem to both be determined to misunderstand each other, let me try to explain what I meant:

Langue is language as a system.
Parole is language in use.

Chomsky isn't interested in parole at all. He's not interested in how language is used. He finds it uninteresting--at least that's what he says in the opening chapter of Aspects.

Conversely, Hopper in his article, "Emergent Grammar and the A Priori Grammar Postulate" (1988) argues that its entirely possible to study only language use without reference to the system. The "rules" don't actually exist.
karivalkama wrote:Thus whatever Paul Hopper thinks, he and I most probably agree concerning the fact that linguistics studies language as a system. You seem to create distinctions and problems where none exist. You also seem to assume too much and draw conclusions too fast about what I must think and assert. May be you like to shoot from the hip. That is not good scientific practice. Please stop it.
I can't stop things that I don't realize I'm doing. I assume what can in order to make sense of what you're saying. I've clearly assumed wrong, but when I don't think I could have done otherwise without knowing dramatically more about you, your background, what linguistic frameworks you've studied, and what you think--knowing that you have a PhD in linguistics isn't enough information and provides no meaningful background information. I'm sorry for making the assumption. But unless you and I had already sat down over coffee or tea ahead of time and talked all of these things out in person, learned about each other's background, research priorities, and what not, there's really no way for either of us to avoid making wrong assumptions and draw conclusions too fast. For example, Hopper wouldn't agree with your definition simply because he doesn't believe there is a language system. For him, there's only language change. For Hopper, to reduce language to a system is to do an injustice to it. Similar claims are made by William Kretzschmar (2010) in his more recent article, "Language variation and complex systems":
Kretzschmar (2010) wrote:That is, the grammars we describe are actually observational artifacts that come from our perceptions of the available variants, at one point in time and for a particular group of speakers, as mediated by the A-curve. Thus, the regularities we observe in speech are not the product of speakers' prior agreement on a systematic grammar, but rather what we perceive as a linguistic system is a consequence of how we perceive our language behavior.
[/quote]

Are they right? I don't know. Its thought provoking, at the very least and I'm sympathetic to him, but I'm also generally suspicious that we can get rid of the system entirely and I think systems do indeed exist and they're not just something we ourselves create when we attempt linguistic description, as Kretzschmar claims. And like you, I definitely agree with Hopper's critique of Chomsky's program of research.

My point in bringing up Hopper earlier was to say that because there are linguists who reject the concept of language as a system, they also, by definition, reject your definition of linguistics.

But as of now, the bigger point that should be make is that you and I both make assumptions and draw conclusions the best we can on the basis of our limited knowledge. I wrongly make some assumptions about you. Likewise, you've made assumption about Hopper, assimilating what I said and what you've read on Wikipedia to your own views about what is linguistics and the nature of language as a system and I would suggest that your assumption, too, are not accurate. You are correct that Hopper stands with you in rejecting Chomsky's paradigm, but you would be wrong to think he agrees with your definition of linguistics. But in that end that don't really matter. Right now, the more important wrong assumptions that were made were my own because they directly impacted you and offended you. And I'm sorry. I did not intend such and how you will accept my apology.

Works cited:
Chomsky, Noam (1965). Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press
Hopper, Paul (1988). "Emergent grammar and the a priori grammar postulate." In Linguistics in Contact, ed. Deborah Tannen.
Kretzschmar, William A. "Language variation and complex systems." American Speech Fall 2010 85(3): 263-286;
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