Hi. I've been MIA for a bit, and haven't posted yet, so I thought I'd better say hi, and thanks for inviting me to be part of the team and stuff.
Today I'm going to talk about linguistic ecumenism.
In my two years at the fringes of the linguistics academic community, one thing I notice over and over again is that different fields of linguistics don't talk to each other. I believe the reasons for this include the following:
1. Time. Who has time to read a lot of research in her own field, much less the less-relevant fields?
2. Disdain. It is easy to get dogmatic about something you know a fair bit, but not a huge amount, about. My first exposure to linguistics was Chomskian*, and the arguments for it are quite conviincing. The arguments against it are not given. There are plenty of structural linguists, who, with good reason, think sociolinguistics is premature: how can we study language variation when we don't even know what language is? And there are plenty of sociolinguists who, also with good reason, think structural linguistics is oversimplifying to the point of failing to capture anything about language. Etc.
3. Ignorance. Linguists who know nothing of a given subfield of their discipline are likely to fail to see the value of it, or even fail to notice its existence.
Another thing I've noticed is that there are many students, especially at the undergrad level, who are still interested in subfields of linguistics that are not their specialty. I've spoken to many young linguists on this very topic, and while some are somewhat agreeable for the sake of being friendly or polite, and throw in half-joking comments like "well, sure, except for [insert derided subfield/theory here]", many are in full agreement. Enough that I say we start an explicit movement.
THE ECUMENICAL LINGUISTICS MANIFESTO
A spectre is haunting linguistics -- the spectre of Ecumenism. All the powers of old linguistics have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: prof and chair, Chomsky and Labov, MIT dogmatics and UCLA postmodernists.
Where is the theory in opposition that has not been decried as foolish by its opponents at MIT?
Two things result from this fact:
I. Ecumenism is already acknowledged by all traditional academic powers to be itself a power.
II. It is high time that Ecumenical Linguists should openly, in the face of the whole linguistic world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the spectre of ecumenism with a manifesto of the movement itself.
To this end, imaginary Ecumenical Linguists of various institutions have assembled in my head and sketched the following manifesto, to be published in English, IPA and possibly French if we feel like it.
We have laboured under the pretense that separate subfields of linguistcs are in conflict with one another. No more! We must recognise that linguistics is a science, and therefore (1) is virtually always wrong, and (2) must by definition be constantly open to refutation, alternative theories and new data. A good scientist is excited by problematic data and opposing viewpoints. A good scientist struggles against her ego in the service of the search for knowledge. Brothers and sisters, the ego must not win!
We, the new generation of linguists, must rise up against this dogmatic separation! We must fight for the time to keep up on research from outside our tiny specialties! We must fight down the egoistic need to be right, and embrace opposition, debate, and cooperation!
ECUMENICAL LINGUISTS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
* A math prof once told me that the greatest compliment a mathematician can get is for his name to be used as an ordinary noun: uncapitalised and subject to morphology. Chomsky's halfway there.