Lawyers, Linguists and Truthiness

Douglas Kibbee
University of Illinois

Michigan Supreme Court

Michigan Supreme Court in the Hall of Justice. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Are lies information? This was the question before the Supreme Court of Michigan in a 2016 case (People v. Harris, based on a 2009 incident). A police officer was charged with pulling a motorist out of his car and beating him; he and two other police officers were charged with obstruction of justice for lying about what happened. Michigan law protects officers from self-incrimination by providing that “an involuntary statement made by a law enforcement officer, and any information derived from that involuntary statement, shall not be used against the law enforcement officer in a criminal proceeding.” The law further defines an involuntary statement as any information that might lead to dismissal from the force or other sanctions. The question before the court was: Are false statements information, and thus protected?

To answer the question the court turned first to dictionaries, following a trend that has increased dramatically since the mid-1980s. In the 1960s dictionaries were referenced in only sixteen opinions of the US Supreme Court; in the decade 2000–2010 dictionaries were cited in 225 opinions (Kirchmeier & Thumma 2010:85). The judicial philosophy of Strict Textualism, also referred to as Originalism and New Originalism, has spurred this lexicological turn. The late Justice Antonin Scalia was a leading proponent of this approach, which claims to seek the “original public meaning” of the Constitution and subsequent statutes. The justices attempt to assess how the public would have understood these texts at the time they were written. The alleged purpose of these efforts is to keep appointed judges from rewriting laws written and voted on by elected representatives (Solum 2011 and 2017 traces the twists and turns of this judicial philosophy). Read more ›

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Posted in America, Linguistics, Semantics

“Except in the case of Andrade”: Manuel J. Andrade’s Quileute (1933) on the questions of “drift” and “function”

Perry Wong
University of Chicago

Portrait of Andrade

“PLATE: Portrait of Manuel J. Andrade (1885-1941)……Frontispiece” is the caption. This image, included at the beginning of the posthumously published “Materials on the Huastec Language” is the only photograph I have been able to locate of Andrade (Microfilm Collection of Manuscripts on Middle American Cultural Anthropology No. 9, University of Chicago Library, 1946); unfortunately, I cannot locate the manuscript or the original photograph.

While currently nearly unknown, Manuel J. Andrade (1885-1941)[1] is one of the central figures in the history of linguistics in the United States. He was a student of Boas at Columbia and an early methodological innovator in the use of audio recording technology for linguistic fieldwork. Following completion of his doctorate, it appears to have been Edward Sapir who recruited him for a joint position as a researcher with the Carnegie Institution of Washington and as Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. At Chicago, not only did he serve as an intellectual and institutional link between anthropology and the then-emerging discipline of linguistics as organized under Leonard Bloomfield, but he also brought the social scientific study of language into critical relation with the theoretical projects of logical positivists like Carnap and semioticians like Morris. Insofar as he is known today, he is known for his extensive work, carried out under joint Carnegie-Chicago auspices, on the Mayan languages of Mexico and Guatemala. This work has formed the basis of much of subsequent Mayanist linguistics, as inherited through the intellectual lineage of Norman McQuown and those he trained.

This short essay does not provide a full biographic treatment of Andrade, nor does it lay out the full intellectual trajectory of his career as developed across his various projects. Rather, my purpose is to take a single illustrative work of Andrade and suggest how it relates to the contemporary works of his closest intellectual peers, Sapir and Bloomfield. Focusing on Andrade’s grammar of Quileute (1933), a language of the Northwest Coast,[2] this essay examines two particularly emblematic points of contact. The first of these points is clearly addressed to Sapir, and concerns how linguistic “drift” relates to cultural history more broadly; the second point seems implicitly addressed to Bloomfield, and concerns the notion of “function” as employed in the study of language. Both points, I will suggest, bespeak a broader shift of focus that Andrade envisioned for the study of language, a focus that can be found in his Quileute grammar, particularly where he diverges from Sapir and Bloomfield, and that his later (largely unpublished) work greatly elaborates. Most broadly, the analytic perspective that Andrade was developing takes the interactional context of language use as the relational locus between token speech signaling – treated as the historical product of the event-bound, idea-motivated action of speakers – and the sets of linguistic patterns that both orient and are oriented by the signal types so used.[3] Read more ›

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Posted in 20th century, America, Field linguistics, History, Linguistics, Pragmatics, Structuralism

Making of the Humanities VII, 15–17 November 2018, Amsterdam

The Making of the Humanities VII

University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

‘The Making of the Humanities’ conference returns to Amsterdam! This is the place where the conference series started in 2008, 10 years ago. The University of Amsterdam will host the 7th Making of the Humanities conference at its CREA facilities, from 15 till 17 November 2018.

Goal of the Making of the Humanities (MoH) Conferences

The MoH conferences are organized by the Society for the History of the Humanities and bring together scholars and historians interested in the history of a wide variety of disciplines, including archaeology, art history, historiography, linguistics, literary studies, media studies, musicology, and philology, tracing these fields from their earliest developments to the modern day.

We welcome panels and papers on any period or region.

Deadline for paper and panel submissions: 1 June 2018

For the full Call for Papers and Panels, see

Posted in Announcements

Discussing Disciplinary Development: The role of the First International Congress of Linguists (1928) in the formation of the discipline of general linguistics

Emma Mojet
University of Amsterdam

krantenfoto eerste linguïstencongres

Newspaper cutting from Leidsch Dagblad, 1928, on the opening of the First International Congress of Linguists in The Hague. On the first row, from left to right, J. Schrijnen, C.C. Uhlenbeck, P. Kretschmer, A. Meillet, and S. Feist.

Why congresses?

The organisation of an international congress of a discipline marks a noteworthy stage in the development of a discipline. Taking a broader perspective, the many first disciplinary congresses held around 1900 also mark a significant stage in the institutionalisation and internationalisation of the disciplinary system in general. Historians have signalled a “wave of congresses” being held in numerous disciplines in both the humanities and the sciences throughout the nineteenth century and the start of the twentieth century. [1] Indeed, as Pascale Rabault-Feuerhahn and Wolf Feuerhahn show, the number of congresses in the nineteenth century is dizzying. [2] In another paper, Rabault-Feuerhahn gives an enumeration of reasons for the this phenomenon: improvement of transport and information infrastructure, foundation of intellectual societies on a national level, and rapid specialisations within disciplines. [3] The trend started in 1798 with the Congress on Definitive Metric Standards in Paris and fits in with the processes of modern discipline formation which are commonly attributed to the nineteenth century. [4]

At the congresses of the various disciplines, the scholars of the field from different nationalities would come together and discuss the status, future course and central problems of their discipline. In this way, the congresses were a means to go beyond the national backgrounds of the scholars and start to normalise the methods of the discipline. Certain theories or practices were validated thanks to the gathering of an international community, something which failed in the separate national contexts. The international congress could function as a judge in such cases. [5]

On the other hand, scholars could use the international congresses as a tool to show off not only their scholarship but also their country. Official representatives often honoured the congress with their presence and the hosts organised banquets and excursions to entertain the members of the congress in their country. Unsurprisingly for the prevailing nationalistic tendencies of the nineteenth century, nationalities definitely did play a role at the international congresses. International congresses could become a political tool, to endorse and to advertise national scholarship.

Not only do “the congresses define the discipline by defining who can and who cannot participate”, as Rabault-Feuerhahn and Feuerhahn claim, “but they also have the ambition to bring together once again the various options and subfields of the discipline. The return to an overall perspective is fundamental and studying this gives an insight in processes of professionalisation and discipline formation.” [6] Indeed, the scholars assembling at international congresses came from different backgrounds, both with respect to nationality and disciplinarity. At the congress, scholars from different subfields met and exchanged ideas, research and methods. We can thus see the congress as a site of communication. Even though the congresses played prominent roles in the development of specific disciplines, we need to study the congress from a multidisciplinary point of view to study the influence of cross-disciplinary interactions. As Bart Karstens argued in his post of March 2017, the history of linguistics provides a useful laboratory for this kind of research.

This blog post discusses the first International Congress of Linguists, held in The Hague in 1928. We will look at who organised and who attended the congress, what topics were dealt with, and what the linguists decided as the international organisation of their discipline. This will tell us more about the development of the discipline of general linguistics. As we will see, the scholars gathered from different countries and had different academic backgrounds and interests. These backgrounds ranged from philology to anthropology, and from dialectology to psychology, illustrating the multidisciplinary background of the discipline of general linguistics. Even though the scholars were all working on the study of language, they had different intents for and views of the methods used in the discipline. At the congress, these all came together and were debated. Read more ›

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Posted in 19th century, 20th century, Europe, History, Linguistics, Netherlands

SHLP6 – Adelaide 13-14 December 2018

We are pleased to announce that the sixth biennial conference of the Society for the History of Linguistics in the Pacific (SHLP) is to be held on December 13th-14th 2018 at the University of Adelaide. This conference is supported by the Research Unit for Indigenous Language at the University of Melbourne and the Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language.

The theme of the conference – “philological fieldwork” – focuses on the theory, practice and rhetoric surrounding the documentation and analysis of “exotic” languages from the 19th to the early 20th century.

It is expected that invited international researchers will attend this sixth SHLP conference.

Abstracts, of less than 250 words, addressing any historical aspect of the collection and organisation of linguistic data are welcome. Abstracts should be sent to Clara Stockigt at the address below no later than the 30th April.

Selected papers treating the history of the development of linguistic understanding will be published in a collected volume. Read more ›

Posted in Announcements

‛Karte und Gebiet’. Die Spatialisierung von Sprache in der Dialektologie des Deutschen von 1918 bis 1955.

Jan David Braun
Universität Wien & Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften

Wissenschaft, Alfred Kubin

Wissenschaft, Alfred Kubin, 1901. Quelle

(Bericht aus einer Akademie)[1]


Der vorliegende Text ist ein Bericht aus den bisherigen Arbeiten und eine Erklärung einiger theoretischer Ansätze zu meiner wissenschaftshistorischen Dissertation, die folgenden Arbeitstitel trägt: “Die Verräumlichung der Sprache. Mundarten zwischen Visualisierung, Repräsentation und Expansion in der Dialektologie des Deutschen von 1918 bis 1955″. Diese Arbeit wird durch ein ÖAW-DOC-Stipendium finanziert, das ich am 1.12.2017 angetreten habe und dessen Laufzeit zwei Jahre beträgt. Zudem ist es mir möglich, im Rahmen des Go! Digital-Projektes Austrian Dialect Cartography 1924-1956. Digitalisation, Contextualisation, Visualisation in nunmehr überwiegend organisatorischer und koordinierender Funktion tätig zu sein, wobei ich dabei an der Abteilung “Variation und Wandel des Deutschen in Österreich” (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, ACDH) im angegebenen Projekt seit März 2017 arbeite.

Grundsätzliches: fehlende Selbst-Reflexion der (Sprach-)Wissenschaft, Meta-Theorie & Historische Epistemologie

Nicht wenige wissenschaftliche Disziplinen haben ein besonderes Manko, das paradox erscheint, da es eine wesentliche Tugend des Wissenschaftlichen bedeuten könnte, will man das Denken zum Zentrum von Forschung machen: die Wissenschaft reflektiert sich in vielen Punkten als soziales, politisches, bürokratisches, kurz: gesellschaftliches System nicht selbst. Die ebenso populäre wie provokante Einschätzung “Die Wissenschaft denkt nicht”[2] des Philosophen Martin Heidegger bekommt in diesem Zusammenhang einen großen Wahrheitsgehalt[3], fehlt doch in vielen Disziplinen eine grundsätzliche Beschäftigung mit den epistemologischen, also erkenntnistheoretischen Grundlagen von Wissenschaft in ihrer Zeichenhaftigkeit (Semiotizität), Struktur, Sozialität, Institutionalisierung und politischen Dimension, d.i. die kulturelle Praxis “Wissenschaft” in ihrer umfassenden Gesellschaftlichkeit.

“Und dieser Satz ‛Die Wissenschaft denkt nicht’, der viel Aufsehen erregte, […] bedeutet, die Wissenschaft bewegt sich nicht in der Dimension der Philosophie. Sie ist aber, ohne dass sie es weiß, auf diese Dimension angewiesen. Zum Beispiel die Physik. Bewegt sich im Bereich von Raum und Zeit und Bewegung. Was Bewegung, was Raum, was Zeit ist, kann die Wissenschaft als Wissenschaft nicht entscheiden. Die Wissenschaft denkt also nicht, das heißt sie kann gar nicht denken […] mit ihren Methoden. Ich kann nicht zum Beispiel physikalisch oder mit physikalischen Methoden sagen, was die Physik ist. Sondern was die Physik ist, kann ich nur denken, philosophierend sagen. ‛Die Wissenschaft denkt nicht’ ist kein Vorwurf, sondern ist nur eine Feststellung der inneren Struktur der Wissenschaft.” — Heidegger im Interview.

Paradox an diesem Nicht-Reflektieren ist zudem, dass die Wissenschaft sich im Bereich der Geisteswissenschaften aber gleichzeitig weitgehend mit sich selbst beschäftigt[4], jedoch, da staatlich gefördert, den Schritt in die Ökonomisierung der wissenschaftlichen Inhalte und Ergebnisse selten gehen oder wagen muss und somit ständig auf sich selbst referiert[5], ohne ihr Verhältnis zur Gesellschaft wirklich zum Thema zu machen.[6] Tagungen, Vorträge, Institute sind hauptsächlich für die scientific community und für Studenten bestimmt, selten für andere soziale Gruppen, die die einfache aber unangenehme Frage nach dem “Warum?” der Forschung stellen könnten. In den Fällen, in denen Forschung augenscheinlich auf und in die Gesellschaft wirkt (Medizin, Ingenieurwesen, Biotechnologie und andere naturwissenschaftliche Disziplinen) transzendiert Wissenschaft natürlich den eigenen Bereich. In vielen anderen Fällen “nützt” die Wissenschaft jedoch am meisten der Gesellschaft der Forschenden, womit sich das Paradoxon (zumindest teilweise) auflöst: wissenschaftliche Inhalte dienen als soziale Konvention[7] und Paradigmen in vielerlei Hinsicht besonders dem Erhalt, der Stabilisierung und Perpetuierung der eigenen sozialen Gruppe.[8] Read more ›

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Posted in 19th century, 20th century, Europe, History, Linguistics

Wilhelm Wundt and the Lautgesetze Controversy

Lia Formigari
Sapienza Università di Roma

Wundt with research group

Wilhelm Wundt (centre) with his research group, ca. 1880 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

A long-dominant historiographical tradition, culminating in Hugo Schuchardt’s essay Über die Lautgesetze (1885), depicted the Neogrammarians as the irreducible upholders of the unconditioned validity of phonetic laws. It is my view that, if we reconsider the theories of the Neogrammarians today, this representation should be radically revised. Instead of the long review that would be necessary to document the pros and cons of Schuchardt’s interpretation, I will limit myself to citing August Leskien’s Introduction to his Declination im Slawisch-Litauischen und Germanischen (1876), which contains an early and never disputed enunciation of the principle of the exceptionlessness (Ausnahmslosigkeit) of phonetic laws and of the way it must be understood:

I started […] from the principle according to which the form of a case in the way it has been transmitted to us is never the result of an exception to otherwise valid phonetic laws. To avoid any misunderstanding I would add the following: if by exception we mean the cases in which the expected phonetic change has not occurred due to specific and identifiable causes […] – that is, when a rule interferes to some extent with another one – nothing evidently contradicts the principle that phonetic laws have no exceptions. The law is still present and when this or that disturbing factor – that is, the action of other laws – is not present, it continues to operate as expected. If instead we admit to random exceptions, of whatever nature, that can in no way be related among themselves, we are basically saying that the object at hand, that is language, is not accessible to scientific knowledge. (Leskien 1876: xxviii)

Basically, Leskien is enunciating the principle, shared after him by all Neogrammarians, that there are factors that can interfere with the regularity of phonetic laws. When this happens, these factors can in principle be identified. So long as the exceptions can be explained the law in itself has not been invalidated. The point, therefore, is not that there are no exceptions to sound laws. It is rather that there are no exceptions that cannot be explained in terms of some other cause, at least in principle. Based on this interpretation, the Neogrammarian principle of the exceptionlessness of phonetic laws can be summarized as a methodological principle: the exceptions that systematically interfere with the regularity of a law can also be explained on the basis of other causes. This principle is a necessary condition for any scientific study of language phenomena. In other words, it is the prerequisite for a transition from an historico-descriptive linguistics of individual languages or language families to a general linguistics.

This notion of the relation between regularities and exceptions was not enunciated ad hoc for linguistics. Rather, it was a general epistemological principle common to both the empirical psychology of the first half of the century (see, for example, Eduard Beneke, [1832] 41877: 14) and later scientific philosophical trends. John Stuart Mill’s Logic, popular in Germany, and Ernst Mach’s theories, supported this principle. The validity of a law rests on its heuristic value in a given context and does not exclude exceptions, which must be explained as the result of other laws or causes.

Wilhelm Wundt interprets the position of Neogrammarians well when, in his essay Ueber den Begriff des Gesetzes (1886), he attributes to them this notion of “law”. His essay was a response to Hugo Schuchart, who had extended his attack on Neogrammarians to Wundt as one of their supporters. Schuchardt’s essay established the image of the Neogrammarians as the dogmatic asserters of the exceptionlessness of phonetic laws, an image that remained almost undisputed until the first half of the twentieth century and beyond. But if we read today, with the hindsight that is the privilege of historians, the Neogrammarians’ texts, first and foremost Hermann Paul’s Prinzipien, the impression we get is rather that of a collective elaboration of a method for a general linguistics. Read more ›

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Posted in 19th century, History, Linguistics, Psycholinguistics

Program January–April 2018

17 January Wilhelm Wundt and the Lautgesetze controversy
Lia Formigari
Sapienza Università di Roma
31 January ‛Karte und Gebiet′. Die Spatialisierung von Sprache in der Dialektologie des Deutschen von 1918 bis 1955
Jan David Braun
Östereichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien
14 February Developments in general linguistics as seen through the first International Congresses of Linguists
Emma Mojet
University of Amsterdam
28 February “Except in the case of Andrade”: Manuel J. Andrade’s Quileute (1933) on the questions of “drift” and “function”
Perry Wong
University of Chicago
14 March Lawyers, Linguists and Truthiness
Douglas Kibbee
University of Illinois
28 March What Zarathustra said. Sixty years of controversy over Anquetil-Duperron’s Zend-Avesta (1771)
Floris Solleveld
University of Amsterdam
11 April The uses and abuses of theory in contemporary sociolinguistics
Jon Orman
25 April Georg von der Gabelentz, der Sprachforscher im Rahmen seiner Familie
Annemete von Vogel
Ost-West-Gesellschaft für Sprach- und Kulturforschung, Berlin
Posted in Programs

Call for Papers: Kolloquium des Studienkreises Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft 2018

Sprache und Kontext in der Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft
4.–7. Juli 2018

Der “Studienkreis ‘Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft’” lädt zu seinem XXIX. Internationalen Kolloquium ein, das von Mittwoch, den 4. Juli (Anreisetag), bis Samstag, den 7. Juli 2018, in Potsdam stattfinden wird.

Tagungsort werden die Foyerräume unter dem Auditorium maximum ( und 1.08.061) auf dem Campus am Neuen Palais der Universität Potsdam sein. Das Kolloquium beginnt am Abend des 4. Juli mit einem Warming up, zu dem auch die Teilnehmerinnen und Teilnehmer des an diesem Tag stattfindenden Kolloquiums des deutsch-französischen Doktorandenkollegs Kollokationen und Diskurstraditionen eingeladen sind.

Mit dem Thema Sprache und Kontext soll der Blick über die sprachsystematischen Kategorien und Konzeptualisierungsprozesse hinaus ausgeweitet werden. Im Fokus stehen dabei sowohl die Geschichte von Bedeutungstheorien, die dem sprachlichen Kontext eine wichtige Rolle bei der Semantisierung zuweisen, als auch die Entwicklung pragmatischer Ansätze, die das Funktionieren sprachlicher Zeichen in situativen und sozialen Kontexten zu erklären versuchen. Nicht zuletzt soll es auch um Kontexte der sprachwissenschaftlichen Theorienbildung gehen, die auf verschiedene Art auf die Entstehung von Theoremen einwirken. Willkommen sind Beiträge zu allen Epochen und Traditionslinien der Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft.

Wir bitten alle Interessenten, besonders aber diejenigen, die einen Vortrag halten möchten, sich möglichst bald, spätestens aber bis zum 15. Februar 2018, mit der Angabe des Vortragstitels und einem Abstract von ca. 200-300 Wörtern (in deutscher oder englischer Sprache) bei beiden Organisatoren, Gerda Haßler und Angelika Rüter, per e-mail anzumelden.

Die Vorträge können außer in deutscher und englischer auch in französischer oder spanischer Sprache gehalten werden.

Weitere Informationen:’18.htm

Posted in Announcements

Call for papers: Central Australian Linguistics Circle

Central Australian Linguistics Circle Meeting
5 April 2018
Friends of the Strehlow Centre Symposium
6–7 April 2018

“Reflecting on the past, making tracks for the future”

The Symposium reflects on the rich and interesting history of Central Australia which is housed in the Strehlow Research Collection. It explores the tracks which could take us into the future in the fields of history, language, religion and culture.

The Symposium will be run over two days. There will be talks and lectures over the two days from many of those experienced in Remote Australian life.

Please send an abstract (c. 200 words) to the organising Committee by 16 February 2018:

Posted in Announcements