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The Birth of Modern Linguistics

The Birth of Modern Linguistics

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The Birth of Modern Linguistics

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  1. The Birth of Modern Linguistics • Ferdinand De Saussure • Why Linguistics is a Science? • Science and Ideology • Basil Bernstein • Noam Chomsky • Structuralist Underpinnings • Formalism and Functionalism

  2. Ferdinand De Saussure • In Switzerland. . . • Philology vs. Linguistics • Diachronic vs. Synchronic • Descriptive vs. Prescriptive • Langue and Parole-- • Semiotics • Objective, scientific approach • Thoroughly ‘modern’

  3. You are watching a documentary. Imagine usual gorgeous footage of animals in their natural habitats.

  4. You are listening to the voiceover and suddenly realize some very troubling facts are being reported.

  5. Dolphins do not execute their swimming strokes properly (performance is in decline)

  6. White-crowned sparrows carelessly debase their calls.

  7. Chickadees are slacking off and constructing substandard nests.

  8. Pandas are holding their bamboo in the wrong paw.

  9. The song of the humpback whale contains several well-known errors

  10. Monkeys cries have been in a state of chaos and degeneration for hundreds of years.

  11. The song of the humpback whale contains several well-known errors. . .

  12. What on earth could it mean for the song of the humpback whale to contain an “error”?

  13. Those whales have low class whalish— my mom won’t let me play with you.

  14. Basic Instinct • Animal behaviors are instinctual and stimulus bound • They can only communicate about food, territory, mating and danger • They cannot recombine components of their communication system to create novel utterances • Limited to the immediate mode

  15. Too Dumb to Make a Mistake • We don’t consider instinctual, stimulus dependent behavior to be subject to mistakes. . . We look for external variables to explain variation in performance—birds don’t have the cognitive capacity to deliberate about altering the melody of their songs and calls.

  16. Epiphany You actually have to be very intelligent to make a grammar mistake. You have to have the capacity to deliberate over your choice of form.

  17. Philology vs. Linguistics • Diachronic historical linguistics: how words and grammar changed across time • Classical variety, the standard or prestige dialect • The written variety of a language.

  18. Diachronic vs. Synchronic • Diachronic: language variation across time (ie., basically historical linguistics) • Synchronic: language variation contemporaneously– from place to place and person to person.

  19. Descriptive vs. Prescriptive • Prescriptive: Identifies a subjective ideal and purports that all educated people will meet that ‘ideal’ (i.e., it tells you how you should talk, and ‘howdy’ is not on the approved vocabulary list!) • Descriptive: Describes the way a person or group of people actually do talk– describing naturally occurring phenomena is a primary task of scientific inquiry.

  20. Syntagmatic and Paradigmatic • Syntagmatic (horizontal), different word classes and relations in a sentence. • Paradigmatic (vertical), same class of words, interchangeable in the same place in a sentence.

  21. Langue and Parole • Langue, Saussure identified as the ideal of a language—all the German there is to know, for example, which does not exist in its entirety in any individual’s head. • Parole, he contrasted, is all the German in one individual’s head. (Even though he was writing in French)

  22. Why is Linguistics Scientific? • In science, you describe the phenomena you observe and try to work out the system underlying the phenomena. Can you predict when the phenomena will occur?

  23. Why is Linguistics Scientific? • Metalanguage • Standardized units of analysis 3) Externally observable evidence as data 4) Rigorous systematic methodology 5) Identification of replicable patterns 6) Both quantitative and qualitative research

  24. Metalanguage • Vocabulary for talking about language (labels, categories)

  25. Standardized Units of Analysis • This includes standardized units of measure and description such as the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet)

  26. Externally Observable Evidence as Data • No mind reading • Phoneticians: tend to use recordings of speech, • Syntacticians: tend to rely more on native speaker intuitions about what ‘sounds’ well formed. • Sociolinguists: require naturally occurring, recorded data.

  27. Rigorous Systematic Methodology • In phonetics, you record and carefully transcribe the data. If you’re doing quantitative work you get statistically significant numbers of the phenomenon under scrutiny. . .

  28. Identification of Replicable Patterns • What are the patterns and why do they occur? If you’ve identified a real pattern you can predict what will happen when certain variables are present.

  29. Both Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis • Case studies: Particularity Goes into context and all the factors that come to bear • Quantitative Studies: Generalizeability

  30. Formal vs. Functional • Formal Linguistics (sometimes called Theoretical Linguistics) is focused on the technical aspects of language: phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics/pragmatics. • Functional Linguistics (also called Sociolinguistics) is focused on language in use—how people use language to create relationships and social realities.

  31. Bernstein the Pariah • Bernstein, who was guilty of sympathizing with the socialists during the wrong phase of U.S. history, got himself (and sociolinguistics) pretty much blacklisted for the next 30 years or so. His linguistics wasn’t ‘safe.’ (He will remain faceless on this slide1) to remind you that he was blacklisted for so many years and 2) because I can’t find a photo of him. )

  32. What is Safe Linguistics? • Like any academic discipline, as long as you stick to describing the laws of nature uninterfered with by human volition, you will generally be on the safe side. If you are just trying to describe the biological, cognitive device that produces language, that’s pretty “safe.” • (Although if you say “nuclear physics,” “stem cell research”, or “evolution” it’s hard to separate them from of all the ethical and philosophical baggage that attends them, isn’t it)

  33. What is Dangerous Linguistics? • As soon as you start acknowledging and describing the ways human beings use language to create social realities, you are going to identify patterns where some humans use language in ways that benefit one group and harm another.

  34. The “Monster” of Free Willy

  35. More of Free Willy 

  36. The Monster of Free Will • There are many forms for a single function • The reason for choosing a particular form is not merely aesthetic • The choice of form relates to the social goals of the speaker

  37. How do I apologize to thee? Let me count the ways. . . • I’m sorry • I apologize • Please forgive me, I am filled with remorse • Excuse me • Pardon me, I beg your pardon • I really regret that a mistake was made. • I suck. • You knew I was a jerk when you married me.

  38. No Mind Reading But. . . • Although it is not possible (yet) to get inside somebody else’s head and find out what their true motives or goals are, it is possible to identify patterns between the use of certain forms and the social effects that follow. (This is just an appetizer for discourse analysis, which comes at the end of the course and is the meaning of life).

  39. Patterns of Verbal Behavior • When you start describing the social effects of language in use, you are getting into a sphere where accountability for one’s linguistic actions must also be acknowledged. You will inevitably ‘stumble upon’ sinister or otherwise non-benign patterns of language use that just happen to result in the social dominance of some people by others. National leaders tend to get their knickers in a knot over such observations and are fond of incarcerating scholars who sally into these shark-filled political waters. (E.g, Dr. Odisho)

  40. Noam Chomsky • Generative Syntax • Formal Linguistics • Safe Linguistics • Goal: Model of LAD • Competence vs. Performance • His problems with ape research (cf. Noam Chimpsky)

  41. Cold War Era Linguistics • Chomsky happened to be writing about syntax during the Cold War. His Aspects of Syntax came out in 1957. (Incidentally, he was about 21 when this landmark work was published)

  42. How was Chomsky’s work different from Bernstein’s? • Unlike Bernstein, who threatened the establishment by looking under social rocks he wasn’t supposed to, Chomsky’s work was able to blossom because his focus was on the formal, technicalaspects of language, not the functional, social uses of language (so social criticism was not the inevitable upshot of his work as it would be with Bernstein and other sociolinguists.)

  43. Competence vs. Performance Competenceis what you know; it’s the ideal language that’s in your head. What’s in the black box? Chomsky is interested in competence. He wants to know how the brain produces language.

  44. Competence vs. Performance Performanceis what actually comes out of your mouth (or in some cases your pen), which sometimes is messed up. You get tongue tied or accidentally say something other than what you know is well formed language—if given a chance to rephrase, you fix it immediately, because your competence always exceeds your performance.

  45. Language in Use Performance also covers the social functions you perform with your language. Besides the exchange of information, you build all kinds of relationships and create larger social realities with your language. This is what Sociolinguists are concerned with. Chomsky doesn’t care about language in use because it doesn’t contribute to his quest to understand how the brain produces language.

  46. LAD: The Little Black Box • The LAD is the Language Acquisition Device Chomsky believes is the key to human language production—it is essentially the black box of the human mind. • The goal of Chomskyan linguistics is to discover and describe the systematic organization of the LAD and its product (grammatical relations in language).

  47. Chomsky and the Planet of the Apes • Chomsky believes that language is unique to humans. • Those who want to prove an evolutionary link between apes and humans are invested in finding similarities between ape communication and human language. • Chomsky dismisses this work because he believes the LAD is completely unique to humans.

  48. Universal Grammar: UG • The UG is the universal grammar that Chomsky and other structuralists (and pretty much all linguists now, including moi) that all human languages share a common core of grammatical options. • Ideologically, the UG eradicates the possibility of one language or its users being inferior or primative by comparison to other languages and peoples (not using ‘races’ here on purpose. . . ) since they all share, in the Chomskyan theory, the same black box. (This is good )

  49. Metaphors for UG • (Think of a Universal Grammar of car design, house building, painting a portrait—only a handful of options at each stage of decision making (standard or automatic, cloth or leather, etc.)

  50. What’s the Point? • The scientific point of tracking down all the languages in the world and writing up a descriptive grammar of them is partly to prove that there are these universals that are basically a finite set of options used creatively to generate an infinitenumber of words, sentences, and languages. It is also, of course, to get a full description of what the UG contains.