Reviews: Jonathan Ree. 1991. Radical Philosophy 59:46-48; Connie Eble. 1992. The SECOL Review 16.1:107-109; John Joseph. 1992. Language and Communication 12.2: 165-179.
For many years I taught a standard undergraduate Introduction to Linguistics, each year trying out one of the many textbooks currently available on the market. However, the longer I taught, the less happy I became with the fact that in a standard introductory textbook students encounter a body that is all cut up. In the chapter on speech production, the lungs, the larynx, and the oral and nasal cavities are discussed and represented, while the evolutionary adaptation of respiration to speech may or may not be addressed. The brain usually has its own chapter and is always pictured as a disembodied organ. The speech-gesture circuit has no place, and the hands only come into play if the topic is American Sign Language. The larynx often takes another turn on stage in the chapter on language acquisition given that babbling establishes connections between the larynx and the prefrontal cortex. The body finds itself in a context only in the chapter on pragmatics. And that chapter on pragmatics is usually at odds with the theoretical orientation of the chapter on syntax. So, by the end of an introductory course, students will have typically encountered a disembodied brain, a dismembered body mostly disembedded from context, along with a broken understanding of the very subject matter of linguistics. What’s more, the students might not even be aware of all these fractures. The cause of these problems is easy to diagnose, in that the template for the standard introductory approach derives largely from a work that is eighty years old, namely Leonard Bloomfield’s Language of 1933. Although the book was masterful in its time, its organization has now outlived its usefulness. Surely, current introductory presentations regularly offer updated editions, incorporating recent findings from well-known subfields while sometimes adding new chapters, e.g. Language and Brain, Language and Evolution, Language and Society. However, while standard introductory presentations attempt to extend their reach by increasing the number of legitimate topics they survey, they end by doing too little in that they do not pause to retheorize and reorganize the whole. It can be said that the problems in the textbooks are symptomatic of the problems in the discipline itself. Indeed, the philosopher John Searle has observed, “Often … we can find out more about what is going on in a culture by looking at undergraduate textbooks than by looking at the work of more prestigious thinkers. The textbooks are less clever at concealment” (Mind, Language and Society 1998:20). Searle most likely means that textbooks, in presenting material whose complexities must necessarily be sifted out for beginning students, more readily expose to experienced observers the bare bones of a discipline’s theoretical problems. Current introductory linguistics textbooks thus serve a useful, unintended purpose: they are reliable guides to the problems in the current state of the discipline’s theory and practice. The impetus for writing LTD came to me some years ago when, a good third of the way through such a standard introductory text as An Introduction to Language, I encountered the unremarkable yet startling statement: “Actually, every utterance is some kind of speech act” (Fromkin, Rodman, Hyams 2003: 215). I was put in mind of Ferdinand de Saussure’s remark in Cours de linguistique générale that “it is often easier to discover a truth than to assign to it its proper place” (1959 : 68). The question immediately arose: What would an introductory linguistics textbook look like if the central insight of J.L. Austin’s speech act theory outlined in How To Do Things With Words (1962) were found not on page 215 but rather on page one? So I began with one move: I acknowledged upfront that every utterance is some kind of speech act, meaning that from the beginning of time – whether considering the temporal axis in terms of the evolution of the species or in terms of the development of the individual – every utterance has occurred in a context, has issued forth from a speaking subject, and has had certain effects. It turned out that this one simple move required an overhaul of the whole. Simple is not necessarily easy. First, I made a historiographic intervention by incorporating into the discipline an important tradition of thinking about our subject matter that has thus far fallen outside the mainstream. Notably, it is a tradition that developed in the wake of Darwin. It begins with the American psychologist William James and continues with thinkers from a variety of disciplines and national origins including, among others: the Russian semiotician V.N. Vološinov, the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, the British embryologist Conrad Waddington, the American developmental psychologist Susan Oyama, the Chilean neurobiologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. These are researchers who all share a deep interest in the role of language in their disciplines and have accordingly reflected in interesting and useful ways on our subject matter. They all share three general tendencies: i) an orientation toward our subject matter that can be summarized, circularly, as languaging (Maturana and Varela’s notion) as an orienting behavior; ii) an allowance for the role and place of the individual that permits, at the same time, for a layered approach to our subject matter, one that engages with a wide variety of neurological, cultural and even ethical elements, even if the theorists were/are not interested in exploring those layers themselves; and iii) an appreciation of how bodies (for the most part human) behave in environments and engage in feedback loops with their environments and each other. These theorists foreground the highly circumstanced nature of whatever it is that they are studying, always with bodies embedded in environments and minds fully embodied. Second, I imported a constructivist view of development that is one in which: i) environment and organism are causally linked; ii) organisms not only determine what aspects of the outside world are relevant to them by the peculiarities of their shape and metabolism but also actively construct, in the literal sense of the word, a world around themselves; and iii) organisms are in a constant process of altering their environment. Of course, no constructivist thinks that the term constructing means that organisms get to make up the world any way they want, for they are always constrained by the histories of the particular phylogenies to which they belong and by the features of the niches they inherit. One of the most well developed constructivist approaches, broadly speaking, is Susan Oyama’s Developmental Systems Theory (DST). In the past thirty years DST has done the social and biological sciences the immense favor of eliminating the conceptual chaos behind the nature/nurture dichotomy along with the epistemological framework in which those bedeviled terms have currency. In linguistics, the dichotomy has made possible a concept of an inborn universal grammar hardware (so-called nature) that efficiently responds to the variable language software (so-called nurture) that every child encounters. The problem with the universal/variable // hardware/software model is that: i) developmental explanations are short-circuited, because a universal, inborn ability is not open to individual and variable development; ii) the abstract principles proposed for the grammar hardware have been difficult, if not to say impossible, to work out on the evolutionary axis; and iii) the differing uses of, for instance, the term nature – presence at birth, reliable timing, appearance without obvious learning, resistance to perturbation, evolutionary stability, distribution in a population – require distinctly different explanations. By way of brief critique, to explain what is present at birth requires an investigation of the factors involved in nine months of gestation, while determining the distribution of some trait in a population is not a developmental issue at all. Lumping them under the same rubric nature guarantees confusion. Given that Oyama has been the theorist who has most carefully untangled the conceptual chaos of the dichotomy, I chose DST as the theoretical fulcrum upon which I have balanced my accounts of evolution and development. Third, I needed a more dynamic conception of our subject matter, and I found it in Maturana and Varela’s notion of languaging, which they use: i) to underscore the idea that each individual responds differently to conditions and is thus oriented differently in his or her cognitive domain in any given languaging situation; and ii) to foreground the intersubjective nature of the activity, such that languaging is not a personal possession. In LTD I expand upon Maturana and Varela and mean for languaging: iii) to scaffold cognition and to act as a means through which certain cognitive and conceptual developments are induced; iv) to span the troublesome distinction between the terms language and speech that some theorists maintain; v) to allow for multimodality, such that languaging is not deemed to be exclusively or even primarily an auditory activity; and vi) to include gesture as a dimension of its multimodality. Lastly – and, then, of course to begin with – new organizing questions were required. Instead of asking: What is language? or What are the properties of our capacity for language? or What do we know when we know a language?, the questions became: How do living beings become languaging living beings? and How do we become the particular languaging living beings that we do? These questions necessarily shake up the traditional way linguist have conceptualized and then talk about the subject matter. I now had three clear sections to map out: first, I had to open up the history of the discipline to include the above-mentioned researchers and then to clear the ground for the new theoretical framework; second, I had to make good on my claim that coherent evolutionary and developmental stories could be told in this new framework; and third, I had to follow through on the disciplinary consequences of what I had set forth, which involved another look at the discipline’s recent history and, most importantly, a call for the revision of introductory approaches.
Given the rich, multidisciplinary developments that have influenced linguistic theory and practice over the past fifty years, we historiographers are uniquely positioned to provide some much needed theoretical integration for the discipline in these post-Chomskyan times. We do so when we shift from practicing historiography as a subdiscipline to deploying it as a method of theoretical intervention. The goal of this essay is to sketch the results of a historiographically-informed critique of introductory linguistics textbooks â€” all of whose formats extend back to Leonard Bloomfieldâ€™s Language (1933) â€” and to offer the outline of a newer developmental linguistics which is: (a) reframed pragmatically by establishing from the beginning an embodied brain embedded in a context; and (b) organized not around the questions: What is language? or What do we know when we know a language? but rather around: How is it that hearing a sequence of sounds (or seeing a sequence of signs or reading a sequence of words) have the effects that they do? This conceptual shift entails addressing two new questions: How does a living being become a languaging living being? and How do we become the particular languaging living beings that we do? In order to answer these questions, both a phylogenetic script and an ontogenetic script need to be provided. Such an approach avoids the problem of the linguist who inherits a construct (e.g. Universal Grammar) and then must retrofit it to contemporary evolutionary and neurological research. It offers instead to our students â€” the future of the field â€” a theoretical account of our subject matter (language/languaging) whose evolutionary and neurological plausibility have been factored in from the beginning.
Toward a history of American linguistics. By E. F. K. KOERNER. (Routledge studies in the history of linguistics.) London: Routledge, 2002. Pp. x, 315. ISBN 0415300606. $155 (Hb). Reviewed by JULIE TETELANDRESEN, Duke University E. F. K. (Konrad) Koerner is not only one of the premier linguistic historiographers in the world, but he has also been one of the prime movers in helping to establish over the past thirtyfive years an international community of scholars devoted to the practice of reading the historical record of linguistics. Because the present volume gathers together mostly previously published and now updated articles on one (but not the only) of Kâ€™s long-standing interests, those who are interested either in the development of Kâ€™s thought or in the history of American linguistics will be greatly satisfied. The subject matter ranges from â€˜American structuralist linguistics and the â€œproblem of meaningâ€ â€™ (Ch. 5, first published in 1970) to â€˜On the sources of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesisâ€™ (Ch. 3, first published in 1992), as well as to â€˜William Labov and the origins of socio - linguistics in Americaâ€™ (Ch. 10, first published in 1991). K also covers quite a bit of territory in between, meaning that much attention is given to the work and influence of Noam Chomsky. The ten chapters are well selected and well organized to give readers a solid narrative of American linguistics with an emphasis on the twentieth century. The volumeâ€™s coherence is further assured by the addition of two chapters with no published predecessors, namely â€˜On the rise and fall of generative semanticsâ€™ (Ch. 6) and â€˜On the origins of morphophonemics in American linguisticsâ€™ (Ch. 9), and by an appropriate introductory chapter, â€˜The historiography of American linguisticsâ€™. The last chapter, â€˜In lieu of a conclusion: On the importance of the history of linguisticsâ€™, should be read by all students of linguistics if only to learn where the concepts of â€˜markâ€™ and â€˜markednessâ€™ and of â€˜drag chainâ€™ and â€˜push chainâ€™ come from (hint: not from Chomsky for the former pair and not from Labov for the latter; see p. 289). In always gentle and gentlemanly terms, K encourages linguists to know something about the history of their discipline in order to give their work depth and perspective, not to mention accuracy. Kâ€™s work can best be described as thorough and meticulous. When K is interested to investigate Chomskyâ€™s reading of Ferdinand de Saussure (Ch. 7, first published in 1994), he reads everything, and I do mean everything, including the mimeographed version of Chomskyâ€™s The logical structure of linguistic theory (1955/1956) and his eighty-five-page contribution to the Handbook of mathematical psychology entitled â€˜Formal properties of grammarsâ€™ (1963), hardly a commonplace reference. Similarly, in â€˜The â€œChomskyan revolutionâ€ and its historiographyâ€™ (Ch. 8, first published in 1983), K does not overlook Chomskyâ€™s unpublished M.A. thesis, â€˜Morphophonemics of Modern Hebrewâ€™ (1951; see n. 5 on p. 215 where K describes his failed attempt to track down Chomskyâ€™s undergraduate essay that Chomsky has evidently claimed to be the source of his M.A. thesis). This is to point out that, for whatever subject he is working on, K comprehensively reads the primary works both published and unpublished, tracks down sources, sifts through footnotes, compares varying versions and editions of published work, reads the relevant correspondence and other archival materials, and generally dots the iâ€™s. One such (almost throwaway) example is his remark to the effect that the mistaken date of 1915 given for Saussureâ€™s Cours by Leonard Bloomfield in his 1933 Language has served as the source for later, usually North American, copyists (70â€“71). Kâ€™s thoroughness and meticulousness serve him well in achieving the goal of his historiography, which is, as he says at the beginning, a return to â€˜(mere) history writingâ€™, as opposed to the more recent use of the term to mean a â€˜principled accounting of past developments and activitiesâ€™ (2). That is to say that, for K, the historian should stand at a certain distance from his subject, should have no personal stake in the outcome of his research, and should be motivated â€˜by a desire to set the record straightâ€™ (154). He identifies one of his guiding lights to be the nineteenthcentury historian Leopold von Ranke, who is well known to have written that â€˜history is neither supposed to judge the past nor instruct the present on how to act for the benefit of the future, but to depict how things really happenedâ€™ (155; with characteristic thoroughness K adds a footnote to give the full context of Rankeâ€™s quote in German and the proper reference). With regard to the last 86110.qxd:LSA 1/2/10 4:18 PM Page 1 fifty years and the assessment of Chomskyâ€™s place in the overall context of American linguistics, K certainly has his work cut out for him, given the amount and kind of commentary about that place that has come from within Chomskyâ€™s own circle of admirers and supporters. K is more than up to the job of pinning down who said what when and where and of providing linguists interested in the historical record with a whistle-clean version of â€˜what did X, Y, or Z know and when did (t)he(y) know it?â€™. Beyond that, K lets the record speak for itself, deeming it â€˜safer to let the reader reach his own conclusions, rather than trying to impose a particular interpretationâ€™ (153). An interesting case in point is Kâ€™s Ch. 9, â€˜On the origins of morphophonemics in American linguisticsâ€™, which, among other things, traces the concept of ordered rules. One of Kâ€™s goals is to determine to what extent Chomskyâ€™s 1951 M.A. thesis and then his subsequent work wasâ€”or was notâ€”influenced by Bloomfieldâ€™s ten-page â€˜Menomini morphophonemicsâ€™, which appeared in Travaux du cercle linguistique de Prague 8 in 1939. The story crucially involves Chomskyâ€™s supervisor Zellig Harris, whose Methods in structural linguistics (1951), which had been circulating in manuscript form since 1946, contains a section entitled â€˜Morphophonemicsâ€™. That Chomsky knew of Harrisâ€™s Methods before 1951 is clear, since K notes at the outset that Harris thanks Chomsky in his preface for helping with the proofs (210). Kâ€™s story may start there (case closed: even if Chomsky never read Bloomfieldâ€™s paper, he would have absorbed the essentials of Bloomfieldâ€™s ideas about rule ordering through Harrisâ€™s work), but it does not end there. Kâ€™s main goal in Ch. 9 is to unravel what he calls the counter-history that has been woven over the decades about Chomskyâ€™s supposed originality with respect to rule ordering, and which includes Chomskyâ€™s repeated assertions about his ignorance of Bloomfieldâ€™s article. For instance: â€˜It is rather astonishingâ€™, K quotes Chomsky as saying in a letter to Frederick Newmeyer in 1988, â€˜that no one at Penn suggested to me that I look at the Bloomfield articleâ€™ (241). Another instance: a pair of Chomskyâ€™s supporters writing in 1989 claim that Bloomfieldâ€™s â€˜article was so unknown in America that Chomsky tells us that he had not read â€œMenomini morphophonemicsâ€ until his attention was drawn to it by Halle in the late 1950sâ€™ (237; in a footnote K notes that the claim emanates from Chomsky himself and does not appear to be based on the writersâ€™ independent research). K identifies the 9th International Congress of Linguistics held in Cambridge, MA, in August 1962 as the decisive event, â€˜ably prepared and effectively runâ€™ by Morris Halle, where the strategy had become â€˜to sell Chomskyâ€™s ideas as having little to do with the linguistics of his American teachers and predecessors â€¦ [such that] â€¦ connections with the work of Chomskyâ€™s immediate predecessors had to be minimized, if not erasedâ€™ (234). It was after this event that the story of the noncumulative, that is, so-called revolutionary, nature of generative linguistics took shape and took hold and has now been reproduced in textbooks and historical accounts to such an extent that â€˜this concoction has become accepted as historical fact by many followersâ€™ (235). The way K sees it, by contrast, American linguistics during the 1940s and 1950s involved more evolution than revolution. His point, however, is not to chastize Chomskyâ€”or anyone elseâ€”for distorting the historical record. In fact, he goes so far as to say that â€˜it appears to me that Chomsky is at least doing what most of us do, and more often than not unconsciously, namely to reinterpret our own past as we grow older, while at the same time our memory of this past has become much less reliable than we may believe it to beâ€™ (244). This is the point of Kâ€™s historiography: to let the record speak for itself rather than any one individual (or group of individuals) at any particular stage in a career or a theoretical moment, so that the reader may draw his own conclusions. One of the conclusions I draw from this episode is that Chomsky, in disavowing influences from immediate predecessors, is making a bid for originality that supports the further formalist tenet that utterances (and, by extension, entire theories) are unconditioned, in the behaviorist sense of the term, by immediate circumstance. This brings me to Kâ€™s longest and most thoughtful chapter, â€˜The â€œChomskyan revolutionâ€ and its historiographyâ€™, which, due to the preceding discussion, is easy to summarize as involving more evolution than revolution, depending on how one defines â€˜revolutionâ€™. That there was a rhetorical revolution is not in doubt. But K puts in great doubt whether there was one in the Kuhnian sense of incommensurability of theoretical views about language, despite Chomskyâ€™s repeated claims that he was not understood by his older colleagues during the 1950s (187). Given 2 LANGUAGE, VOLUME 86, NUMBER 1 (2010) 86110.qxd:LSA 1/2/10 4:18 PM Page 2 the vantage point of 2010, it does not seem particularly fruitful to me to wonder, as James Mc- Cawley did several decades ago already, whether, if indeed there was a paradigm shift in the Kuhnian sense, then it was with Aspects of the theory of syntax (1965) rather than with Syntactic structures (1957) (see p. 190). Rather, it seems better now to historicize Kuhn, whose The structure of scientific revolutions (1962) was called a â€˜sensationally successful bookâ€™ by Yakov Malkiel in 1969 (157â€“58). Forty years later, these post-Chomskyan times now call for a different historiographic model. Let me suggest Ludwik Fleckâ€™s Genesis and development of a scientific fact (1979), first published in German in 1935 and with a foreword by Thomas Kuhn in the En - glish edition. Fleckâ€™s understanding of the socially conditioned nature of cognition and his attention to the microdynamics of a developing scienceâ€”particularly one as heterogeneous and interdisciplinary as linguistics has becomeâ€”seems to me more of the moment than Kuhn; and please do note the differences between Kuhnâ€™s title and Fleckâ€™s. Unlike Kuhn, Fleck does not invoke radical discontinuities, so-called revolutions, in his accounts of intellectual history. Rather, he writes: â€˜it is altogether unwise to proclaim any such stylized viewpoint [e.g. generative grammarâ€” JTA], acknowledged and used to advantage by an entire thought collective as â€œtruth or errorâ€. Some views advanced knowledge and gave satisfaction. These were overtaken not because they were wrong but because thought developsâ€™ (1979:64). So, thought developed from the Bloomfieldians to the Chomskyans, and now it has developed well beyond the Chomskyans. I think K would agree. And as we move on, it is good to know what we have moved on from. We have K to thank for setting the record straight. REFERENCES BLOOMFIELD, LEONARD. 1933. Language. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. BLOOMFIELD, LEONARD. 1939. Menomini morphophonemics. Ã‰tudes phonologiques dÃ©diÃ©es Ã la mÃ©moire de N. S. Trubetzkoy (Travaux du cercle linguistique de Prague 8), 105â€“15. Prague: Cercle Linguistique de Prague. CHOMSKY, NOAM. 1951. Morphophonemics of Modern Hebrew. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania M.A. thesis. [Facsimile printing of original typescript, New York: Garland, 1979.] CHOMSKY, NOAM. 1955/1956. The logical structure of linguistic theory. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [Parts revised during 1956.] CHOMSKY, NOAM. 1957. Syntactic structures. Berlin: Mouton. CHOMSKY, NOAM. 1963. Formal properties of grammars. Handbook of mathematical psychology, vol. 2, ed. by R. Duncan Luce, Robert R. Bush, and Eugene Galanter, 323â€“418. New York: John Wiley & Sons. CHOMSKY, NOAM. 1965. Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. FLECK, LUDWIK. 1979. Genesis and development of a scientific fact. Foreword by Thomas Kuhn, trans. by Fred Bradley and Thaddeus Trenn. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [Originally published as Entstehung und Entwicklung einer wissenschaftlichen Tatsache: EinfÃ¼hrung in die Lehre vom Denkstil und Denkkollektiv, Basel: Benno Schwabe & Co., 1935.] HARRIS, ZELLIG. 1951 . Methods of structural linguistics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. KUHN, THOMAS. 1962. The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Program in Linguistics Duke University 307 Allen Building Box 90015 Durham, NC 27708 [email@example.com]