Some sobering thoughts on history

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    This year (2022) it is 53 years since I entered the Linguistics profession with my 1969 dissertation. I am intrigued to note that the same amount of time, 53 years, separated my degree from the appearance of Ferdinand de Saussure’s (1916) Cours de linguistique générale.

    Continuing along the same lines, It’s now 30 years since I published A-Morphous Morphology, and 30 years before my PhD, Trubtzkoy’s Grundzüge de Phonologie appeared. And 17 years ago, in 2005, my clitics book came out, while a bit more than that (18 years) separated my PhD from the 1951 appearance of Trager & Smith’s Outline of English Structure, a landmark in the American Structuralist tradition in which I was initially brought up.

    Despite the fact that there are now vastly more scholars, academic programs and publication venues in Linguistics than there were in those earlier years, I wonder if we can say that progress in our understanding of human language has accelerated at a commensurate rate. With Saussure, I associate the revolutionary shift of attention to synchronic systems as the way to understand the nature of language. The next major revolution in understanding was the recognition the language is essentially a feature of human cognition, an aspect of the structure of the mind, the shift, as Chomsky put it, from a focus on e-Language to a concentration on i-Language. That shift, however, was well accomplished (even if not universally acknowledged) in the years before 1969 when I came into the field.

    I’m not persuaded that the recent shift of attention to e-Language properties in the form of data-mining, statistical corpus linguistics, deep learning, etc. represents an advance, though of course that might just be because it is hard for old dogs to learn to appreciate new tricks.

    Anyway, I invite others to compare the development of the field over these roughly equal amounts of time, and draw your own conclusions.

    • This topic was modified 2 years ago by sra.
    • This topic was modified 2 years ago by sra.
    • This topic was modified 2 years ago by sra.
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