Saturday, July 03, 2004

Relevance theorist mentioned on Language Log; priorities questioned

Richard Horsey's book 101 Key Ideas in Linguistics. London: Hodder & Stoughton. 2001, is mentioned by Arnold Zwicky on Language Log blog.
...six of these 101 Key Ideas in Linguistics aren't ideas at all, but people. Men, in fact. None dead a hundred years now. So this part of the book is really a list of Six Key Men of Twentieth-Century Linguistics.

Now, take out a slip of paper and write down your six nominees for the Key Men of Twentieth-Century Linguistics. No cheating: no checking Horsey's book or peeking ahead in this posting. If anyone, absolutely anyone, playing fair, gets the same list as Horsey, I'll be astonished. In fact, if you manage this feat, e-mail me and I'll take you out to dinner at the next conference we're both at.


Ok, here's Horsey's list, in alphabetical order: Leonard Bloomfield, Noam Chomsky, Gottlob Frege, H. Paul Grice, Roman Jakobson, and Ferdinand de Saussure. "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis" gets an entry, but Horsey gives no biographical data on either man, nor any discussion of their intellectual contributions beyond the SWH, so they don't count.

Frege and Grice are the surprises, of course. Getting the other four is no great feat, but if you got both of these names, then you definitely have a Horsey take on things, and you get a dinner.

I got Grice, of course, just after Chomsky - it was the rest of the list I had trouble with. Frege and de Saussure seem to me more 19th than 20th century, since their major work was mostly done by 1900, I think. And what did Bloomfield and Jakobson do again?

I guess that Richard's 'take on things' is a relevance theory perspective, with Jakobson, Bloomfield and de Saussure thrown in to keep the publisher happy.

My list would keep Chomsky and Grice and add Richard Montague. I'm not sure who to add after that: Austin, perhaps, or Bertrand Russell. Or some current practitioners other than Chomsky (who has been canonized in his lifetime) - but then it's very hard to choose just a few.

Disclaimer - I wouldn't want anyone to take these comments too seriously; I'm hardly in a position to judge the importance of linguists outside pragmatics and semantics. In fact as as a pragmatist, I wouldn't claim to be a linguist at all, but that's a debate for another time. And anyway, assembling best of... lists is hardly a serious pursuit.

2 comments:

Tim said...

Meany

Arnold Zwicky, commenting on six inclusions in Richard Horsey’s ‘101 Key Ideas in Linguistics’, writes:

"Ok, here's Horsey's list, in alphabetical order: Leonard Bloomfield, Noam Chomsky, Gottlob Frege, H. Paul Grice, Roman Jakobson, and Ferdinand de Saussure…

Frege and Grice are the surprises, of course. Getting the other four is no great feat, but if you got both of these names, then you definitely have a Horsey take on things, and you get a dinner."

Well, I'm afraid I'm busy tonight, and I can think of better people to argue for the inclusion of Frege, but I do think Mr. Zwicky’s being a bit of a meany begrudging a mention for Grice. Indeed, it seems to me that Grice’s contributions to linguistics (via pragmatics)—not forgetting his contributions to the philosophy of language, and the influence this work has had on modern-day psychology and even cognitive science—make him pretty hard (not to say impossible) to leave out.

I wonder why Grice’s importance is over-looked so often. I never met him, but he does seem to have been a fairly diffident chap. Perhaps that somehow lingers in his legacy. His ground-breaking paper ‘Meaning’, for example, was written in 1948, but Grice didn’t deem it worthy of publication. Reliable reports (from Richards Grandy and Warner, two people who worked closely with Grice in his later years) have it that Peter Strawson had the article typed out (9 years later) and then submitted it without his knowledge, only informing him once it had been accepted.

Much of Grice’s work was, quite simply, ahead of its time. Philosophers of language and pragmatists continue to build on the foundations he laid (still, perhaps, underestimating the extent of those foundations - more excavation required...). I recall psychologist Alan Leslie revealing at a workshop in Oxford a few years ago that it was ‘Meaning’ (1948, 1957) that sparked his interest in belief-desire psychology. Many of Grice’s ideas on reason and rationality are reflected (not to say retrospectively endorsed) in recent work in cognitive science. Moreover, a forthcoming paper by Michael Tomasello and colleagues suggests that it was ‘shared intentionality’ and ‘cooperation’ that were the central factors in the evolution of human cognition. I must say that makes a nice change from cheating, deceiving and outmaneuvering (of which there’s enough around at the moment).

Cooperative principle anyone?

J. L. Speranza said...

Yes, Cooperative Principle with _me_.

I'm always pleased to discuss the Cooperative Principle and the place of H. P. Grice in the history of 20th century Oxford philosophy!

J. L. Speranza
The Grice Circle
jlsperanza@aol.com

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