2 jun. 2011

Pretty Good Fields

One field I respect is linguistics. I'm sure some linguists think others are doing bullshit, but generally they respect one another and work toward a common understanding. They come up with interesting, replicable findings and their conclusions can be falsified. A linguist will not appeal to authority (Chomsky said so) but to evidence. A good linguist will admit to error and correct previous positions. My bullshit detector doesn't go off that much with linguists, though I am skeptical about "universal grammar."

Gee, it's not as fun to talk about a field I respect. This is going to be a dud.

I guess what I'm saying is that you can tell a good field by how it behaves itself. Does it split into ideologically opposed camps based on temperament and personality, like literary criticism, or theology, or does it steer a middle course? Are its claims falsifiable in any meaningful way? How does it know what it claims to know? Can someone outside the field understand its claims in layman's language without having to accept special pleading of the "Freud was a genius" type?

8 comentarios:

Spanish prof dijo...

I think linguistic is a very broad field. I would consider Second Language Acquisition a subfield within linguistic, and I think that is the most bullshit field of all (if empirical evidence doesn't correspond with theory, f**ck the empirical evidence).

Clarissa dijo...

I hear that there is a lot of "Saussure was a genius and Chomsky is evil" kind of pleading.

My father is a linguist, so I learned to say "Saussure" before I knew how to pronounce my parents' names. :-)

Andrew Shields dijo...

What I like about linguists is that when there's a discussion about usage, they turn to corpora and look at how people use language. They always look for *evidence*, as far as I can tell. They always collect *data*.

Good literary criticism is also always based on date; the problem is that the data is always unique (there's only one version of each novel), so it's not as easy to find patterns that prove anything as it is in linguistics. And that, in a sense, is where the confirmation bias is: the risk is much greater that you will find what you're looking for, not what the evidence reveals to you.

KT dijo...

Second Language Acquisition (a subclass of Linguistics) must be the most bullshit category I've ever encountered. I agree. You examine so many theories and counter theories by authorities and scholars only to return to the very basic fact that we can never know how language is acquired. I've never seen such a waste of time.

Andrew Shields dijo...

My sister worked on Second Language Acquisition as a linguist and as an English teacher in Japan for over a decade. Her conclusion was simple: if adults want to learn new languages, they should first decide whether they want to learn enough to be able to do basic everyday things or whether they want to learn it well enough to do just about anything. In the first case, they should do Berlitz, or something like it. In the second, they should learn the grammar and then go to a country where the language is spoken for a long stay. (That's what she did when she moved to Japan.) You don't need grammar to speak in everyday formulas, but you do need grammar to get beyond them.

Jonathan dijo...

There is good SLA research, but a lot of more pragmatically oriented work that leaves a lot to be desired. It is hard to hire in this field, because the really good people are few and far between.

Shedding Khawatir dijo...

SLA is what I tell other academics I do, unless they are very traditional SLAers, in which case they do not consider what I do SLA but an abomination of it. I complain about bullshit aspects of SLA all the time. However, I do feel compelled to point out that SLA is basically the consideration of second/foreign language/multilingual situations using the tools and theories of other fields (theoretical linguistics, corpus studies, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, psychology, anthropology, neuroscience, etc.) with the goal of understanding the new situation and contributing to theory on the old. So as a field, it can be no more or less bullshitty than these fields, although of course you can have crappy research/applications of tools/theories in any field. In terms of being fractured though, I think SLA (and really linguistics in general) would definitely fall under your bullshit definition. There are major epistemology debates.

Elisa dijo...

Yay, LING! I would argue, though, that functional linguistics is very unbullshit, while the Chomskian generative grammar school of linguistics still prevalent in the US, as far as I know, is total bullshit. :)