About the title, I received a Masters Degree in Linguistics (ESL option) from a California state university in 1994. I actually publish in the field even though I do not have a PhD. A paper of mine just made it through two separate peer reviews, including one that had some of the top people in the field (they have Wikipedia pages). A version translated to a foreign language will appear soon in a quality academic Linguistics journal, and then a very long (80 pages) version with maps that I and an artist also created will be published in a volume of a 4-5 part Linguistics book series. Both will be published in the Near East. I also sit on the review board of a refereed academic Linguistics journal, also out of the Near East.
I am friends with some fairly big names in the field (or at least in some subfields), and I talk to them occasionally.
The more time you spend talking to linguists, the more you start thinking that the whole field is stark raving bonkers. Many questions that you could ask ordinary Joe Blow on the street about linguistics, he could give you a straightforward, commonsensical answer that “most everyone knows,” that is, in all probability, correct.
But in the overwhelming majority of cases, the nerdy eggheads in the ivory tower are going to disagree with you and tell you that you are wrong. So the eggheads know what the Average Joe does not? Nope. Average Joe knows what he’s talking about. The eggheads have their heads up their overdegreed hinds, as is so often the case.
This is so much the case in the soft sciences, and Linguistics is one of the softest of the soft sciences.
If you going to degree in Humanities, you may as well degree in Literature or English or something like that. Those fields don’t pretend to be scientific. You get a degree, and then you write papers on Keats or Byron or whoever, and none of it’s very controversial. No one is pretending to be a scientist. It’s all just a bunch of opinion. Was DH Lawrence a great writer? Who knows? Some say he was, some say he wasn’t. The reputations of these guys go back and forth, but no one analyzing this stuff ever pretends to be a scientist.
The soft sciences are so much worse. In the hard sciences we can actually prove things, and generally there isn’t a lot of debate going on one way or the other at least once something gets proven. You either proved it or you don’t, and that’s that. If you prove it, fine, most folks agree. If you don’t, fine, most folks agree there too. Sure, there is a lot of debate about things that are not proven yet, but no one ever says that something is not provable or can never be proven!
The soft sciences are a bunch of the silliest, most PC eggheads you can imagine running about screaming, “We can’t prove it! We can’t prove it! We can’t prove it!” Hardly anything can ever be proven in the soft sciences (except their politicized PC theories of the day, which, truth be told, can’t be proven either), and the soft sciences are ecstatic about this.
Whenever we can more or less prove something real and not PC-nothingness, the soft science field usually degenerates into an insane argument about whether or not it was really proven.
Truth is that most of these fields are jokes. Sociology, Psychology, African-American Studies, Feminist Studies, Anthropology, Linguistics, Pedagogy, Queer Studies – it all gets more and more useless. Even Political Science has some serious weaknesses.
Economics has long been a black hole of theory. They don’t call it the dismal science for nothing.
Just to give you an example from Economics, the idiocy and madness that just blew up the whole US economy and screwed the whole rest of the world happened because people in the US were following the latest and greatest economic theories of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School.
If you go to Economics School, you get taught that Chicago School is now the proven way that Economics works, and following Chicago School theory will make everything all groovy. No it won’t. It will blow up the whole economy.
But even after the blowup, the Chicago School crowd went on like nothing had happened, fitting the facts to the theory instead of otherwise. Turns out that Friedmanite Economics had worked just fine, and the reason for the blowup was that the economy had not been not allowed to go full bore Friedmanite enough.
Actually, it was evil government that blew up the economy. Or the niggers*. Or the spics*. Or the spics and the niggers. Or something. Or whatever. Even when their theories blow up in their faces, they still go on blissfully asserting how great they work.
Let’s look at Sociology. According to Marxist political science, now transplanted to liberalism and Cultural Marxism/Cultural Left/Political Correctness (pick your term) at large, the reason that, say, Blacks and Hispanics lag behind in many areas, or – have excessive pathologies in others, is due to racism. The entire society accepts this as fact. Yet never is it even examined.
Who says that the problems of these groups are due to racism? Prove it. They have never proven that all of these problems are due to racism. But they don’t have to. That’s soft science.
For Blacks in particular, they have a number of problematic issues specific to their group. What’s the cause of these problems? Slavery! They was enslaved! How long ago? Long ago. 150 years ago. And all of the problems of Blacks today are caused by this nebulous “legacy of slavery.” Everyone accepts this. Huge government programs are set up to combat this mysterious legacy. Can we prove it? Of course not.
Is the Third World messed up? Sure it is. And why is that? Say, because of the humans who live in the Third World? Logical answer, no? It turns out that it’s because they got colonized some time ago. Dey done got colonized! Can we prove that colonization did them in? Of course not. But we don’t need to. We’re social scientists!
Let’s look at some areas of Linguistics that Joe Blow accepts, but eggheads don’t.
Most of the linguists’ assertions below were taken from the newsgroup sci.lang, where some of the most annoying linguist jackasses on Earth hang out. Nevertheless a number of the linguists who infest that site are very well-known in the field, and some even have Wikipedia entries. Others have authored well-known books in the field. Others are highly regarded Linguistics professors. I will highlight all of the sci.lang assertions with a footnote.
Joe Blow will tell you that some languages are relatively harder to learn for say, an English-speaking L2 learner, and others are easier to learn. Some of the harder languages for an English L2 learner, many folks would agree on, might be Hungarian, Polish, Finnish and Mandarin.
Linguists don’t agree.1 2 To them, easy and difficult languages are not definable, and therefore any language is as easy to learn as any other. Polish, Finnish and Mandarin, instead of being the mind-bogglers everyone knows they are, are actually no more difficult to learn than say any other language. Or maybe they are the hardest of all. Or maybe they are in between. Or this or that. Or whatever.
It turns out Tsez is just as easy to learn as Malay! Who knew? Or wait, maybe it isn’t. Or maybe it is. Or maybe we can’t prove that. Or maybe we can’t prove anything.
Most people agree that kids learn languages much better than adults. In fact, we’ve proven that there’s a Critical Period for learning languages, with the window starting to close after age 7, then finally closing around age 14-18. The period is apparently neurological. That this period exists is patently obvious to anyone awake and thinking.
The whole time I was getting my degree, most of my professor-fools insisted that there was no Critical Period. Adults could get a language just as easy as any kid.2 Well, why don’t they then? The reasons were not neurological but psychological.2
They had a whole laundry list of ridiculous reasons why adults do more poorly at this. There’s some preposterous device called the “affective filter” that effects adults but not kids somehow. Adults have all this anxiety about learning languages, yet kids, for some bizarre reason, do not. The lame theories went on and on.2 I actually had to study very hard to learn all this nonsense and regurgitate it back at the idiots who were teaching it to me.
The reason Linguistics refused to accept a Critical Period is because linguists are often in the business of teaching adults languages or if not, they are busy teaching people how to be language teachers. EFL and ESL degrees are offered only by Linguistics Departments, or at least that’s where I got mine. All of my ESL teachers were professors in the Linguistics Department. All of the major ESL theorists are linguists. None are nonlinguists. Saying adults are never going to get as good as kids screws up the whole project, so they lie and say it’s not true.
Ask anyone – are some languages more complicated than others? Are some complex and some maybe simpler, less involved and less insanely convoluted and difficult? Joe Blow says sure.
A simple test case would be verbs. English has five verb forms – steal steals stole stealing stolen. Many Amerindian languages have over 1,000 forms for each and every verb. That right there implies some increased complexity and difficulty.
Turns out linguists say that all languages are equally complex or equally simple, and anyway, we can’t define simple or complex, so the whole argument is moot.1 2 Navajo’s as straightforward as Esperanto.
Most educated folks will tell you that some languages are more regular than others, the others being more irregular.
Turns out it’s not true, the linguists tell us. All languages are equally regular or irregular, and anyway, there’s no way to define “regular” or “irregular”.1
Well, don’t languages have rules, and the degree to which they follow the rules indicates their regularity, and the degree to which they don’t indicates their irregularity? Joe Blow says sure.
Nope! Not according to the linguists!
Turns out there is no way to define “rules.” Further, there is no way to define “exceptions” either. No such thing as rules, no such thing as exceptions. There are no languages that have many complex rules but are regular and others that have few rules but are irregular. There are no languages that are exception-ridden because we can’t define exception.1 I guess all languages are equally rule-governed or exceptional!
Is it possible that, as languages become widely spoken, they start to simplify, as English has lost most of its case, almost all of its subjunctive, the dative pronoun “whom”, merged four 2nd person pronouns into two and has seen “It is I” constructions fall out, among many other things? I would argue that as speakers get more modern and civilized, there is a need to get your point across as quickly as possible, time being money in a fast-paced society and all.
Whereas, more primitive hunter-gatherers spend much of their time sitting around, and, being highly intelligent, are bored. So possibly they enjoy using their often frighteningly complex language as a way of exercising their minds and being creative. This was what one of my professors taught me anyway. At the very least, it’s an interesting theory, and it makes sense intuitively.
Nope, apparently not. It’s not possible for a language to simplify because I guess we can’t define the blasted word or something. Anyway, who says the above is a simplification process? (I do.) It could well be that the language is getting more and more complicated, no? 2 (No, I don’t think so.) Who says primitive languages are often insanely complex? (I do, for one.) Define complexity. Define simplicity.1 You can see where this is going.
Few Americans are versed on the subject, but there has been a lot of research in recent years setting out an excellent case that the Chinese and Japanese writing systems are unnecessarily complex, convoluted and difficult, that they are hard to learn and take much longer to learn than alphabetical forms, that it is hard to add new foreign loan words in a character based system, and that as society becomes more technical, they become more and more of a hindrance.
A number of these researchers suggest that these crazy writing systems are actually economically harming these countries.
Well! This theory is just not PC! You see, in Linguistics, you can’t be all evil and White and stuff and go around dissing other folks’ (non-Whites) precious ‘lil languages. In the case above, this is just evil White racism attacking those poor Asiatic rice eaters.3 Turns out my field says that there are no good or bad writing systems; they’re all just fine for whatever folks are using them.3 Isn’t that dumb?
Ask your average Joe, what’s a dialect and what’s a language?
“Well,” he says. “California English and Massachusetts English are dialects, and Mandarin and Spanish are languages.”
Nope! The linguist eggheads have decided that there is no such thing as a dialect and no such thing as a language.1 If you ask any linguist or consult any linguistic textbook on the language/dialect question, you will hear this retarded statement. There is no way to determine linguistically what is a language and what is a dialect. The difference is sociological and political, not linguistic.1 2Then you will get some silly examples like the Chinese “dialects” (really the Chinese “dialects” are more like 2,000 separate languages) and the stupid divisions of Shtokavian in the Balkans. Then you get the ridiculous Weinreich quote about armadas and lects.
So there are no linguistic definitions for the terms dialect and language. It’s all political.1 2 So, really, Spanish and Mandarin could really be dialects of one language, but California English and Massachusetts English could possibly be separate languages, as far apart as Ket and Warlpiri. Because, uh, you know, it’s all, like, political and stuff, dude.
Suppose we say that at a certain degree of structural differentiation, you have two separate languages. Nope, no can do. Define degree of difference. How will you measure it? Impossible.1
Suppose we say at X% mutual intelligibility and above, we have a dialect, and at Y% mutual intelligibility and below, we have a language? Nope, sorry, no go. We can’t define mutual intelligibility, and furthermore, we can’t measure it.1
But we have measurements that we’ve been testing and refining for 50 years now.
Sorry, do not pass go. Who says they really work? Prove that they really work. Who says they are reliable? Prove it, prove it, prove it.1
Further, there is no way to define mutual intelligibility, and since MI measures are measures of intelligibility of some lect, apparently we can’t measure intelligibility either! Because individual variation and lying and bilingual learning and other nonsense.1
The notion that we cannot measure listener intelligibility of lects leads to some interesting conclusions. So if I say I have 100% intelligibility of English, that’s not a meaningful statement. Hell, it could well be 0%. I’m just fantasizing that I’m understanding everyone around me; really I don’t understand a word anyone says. And if I say I have 0% intelligibility of Chinese, that’s not measurable either. I could very well have 100%, and I could easily go live in Shanghai tomorrow, and maybe I just don’t know it.
Are you starting to see some insipid patterns in this splendiferous array of over-educated, egghead, useless junk theory that digests down to an endless fog bank where nothing much at all can be discerned?
Why did I even waste my time getting a degree in this useless field full of mumbo-jumbo speaking propeller-head fools? Looking at the theoretical state of our field, I don’t think that your average citizen should listen to a single thing that linguists say about anything. We don’t seem to have anything intelligent to say to your average person about language or much of anything else for that matter.
At the end of the day, the blue collar rednecks are redeemed. They’ve always scorned domehead nerds in university offices who talk in riddles and seem to not know anything about anything when it comes down to it.
“Want to know the answer to a simple question?” the redneck rhetorically asks. “Ask Joe Blow on the street.”
Don’t ask some pointy-headed egghead who probably doesn’t even know what he’s talking about.
1From the well-regarded and famous linguists on sci.lang.
2A commonly held belief in the field.
3A major book came out 10-20 years ago suggesting that the Asian character based systems, Chinese in particular, were inefficient, unnecessarily complex and led to incomplete learning. The book also suggested that nations using these systems were being harmed economically. This book was completely destroyed by the PC Cultural Left types who overwhelming infest the field of Linguistics. Which is really too bad, as I think he had some good points.