this article is dedicated to the analysis of what the heck is wrong with linguistics as an academic discipline. it’s an emotional rant about things that i feel, neatly packed into a pseudo-academic frame. the author has studied lots and lots of linguistics in a number academic environments and has come to the conclusion that it is not entirely their thing.
this is mainly because of the aspects below. the word bias or to be biased is important here; for instance, the author likes lemonade better than beer, and when the author is presented both lemonade and beer, the author finds the lemonade more delicious, even though beer might objectively be the more delicious choice. so one might say: the author is biased towards lemonade. a bias is a personal and often unconscious and unreasoned judgment. here we go:
- written language bias. linguistics is biased towards written languages. conversation is considered unorderly, chaotic and full of mistakes #noamchomsky #saussure #alltheclassics
- standard language bias. linguistics wittlingly or not reproduces authoritarian point of view of speaking: what is good language usage, what counts as standard language and what is a dialect or variation_deviation are considered part of linguistic studies #LinguisticPurism #ÁrniMagnússonInstituteforIcelandicStudies #AcademieFrançaise
- transcription bias. when studying conversation, there is bias towards the transcribed conversation on paper. that is, it is biased towards those aspects of conversation that can be written down most conveniently #ConversationAnalysis #DiscourseAnalysis
- vocal portion bias. when studies are about body and_or hand movement, these movements are largely considered non-compulsory add-ons to vocal portions of conversation #talkinonthephone
- voiced language bias. the word “language” referes to voiced languages. languages that rely on visuals or touch (signed languages; tactile sign languages) are considered exotic examples and_or compared to the standards of voiced languages (especially to those of written language [which, ironically, also relies on visuals or touch]).
- oneness bias. voiced language and written language are tacitly considered instances of the same language. for instance, english voiced language and english written language are both considered english.
- syntax bias. communication is considered language when syntactic structures exist. in short: if there’s grammar, it’s a language. everyday social actions such as handshakes, exchanging glances when walking outside or entering a restaurant are forms of communication. but since they are assumed to lack grammar, they are not considered (part of any) language.
- neutrality bias. linguistics as a discipline is embedded within academic subculture. science offers the illusion of neutrality and unbiasedness. however, academic writing is elitary, i.e. only a pre-selected portion of society does get the opportunity to make statements about the world. statements that have a quite far reach and impact.
the author assumes that this has been a lot of input. we will thus go through each of the points and add some clarifications. but we will go from bottom to top. remember, they build on one another.
8. claim of neutrality
people working in academia is a quite specific type of people. to give an idea, they are overpropotionally hearing, overproportionally identify as a specific gender, overproportionally cisgender, overproportionally male, overproportionally white, overproportionally middle aged, overproportionally eager to get (and hold onto) a tenured positon, overproportionally able-bodied, overproportionally wealthy, overproportionally able to read and write, overproportionally mentally sane (at least they do their best to pretend to be).
the majority of people working with signed languages do not have a signed language as their first language. the majority of people working with minority languages are not part of that minority. those academics who study a minority that they do belong to are also a minority in academia. it’s really something let sink in.
it is widely believed that states, things and human beings can neutrally be described with written language. but it is rarely being considered that language use is in itself biased and reproduces language violence and discrimination, given the power structure outlined above.
7. syntax bias
academia is a subculture that prefers writing as main mode of communication. writing is a way of communicating “using the head”, that is rationally. since disembodied modes of communication are preferred, it is difficult to find meaning in the mundane, like greeting a colleague at the department. when a person’s professional existance is based on disembodied written language, it can be pretty difficult to see embodied meaning, i.e. meaning in movements that cannot readily be broken down into constituents. it’s meaning that exists out of the reach of linguistic description. people are prone to dismiss specific forms of communication as meaningless or to fail to see them in the first place.
to give an example: communication between a seeing person mainly relying on a signed language and a seeing person mainly using a voiced language happens through the shared visuals of body movement, location and objects in the surround: handing over or showing objects are the most meaningful actions in this kind of communication. it works exacly like communication where syntax is to be found, but as there’s nothing to grasp for a linguistic framework, it’s out of reach for linguistics.
6. oneness bias
while signed languages remained ostracised during the bigger part of the 20th century, academics did not seem to notice that their own preferred way of communication is rather special: academics have a non-voiced language as their preferred mode of utterance production. just like deaf people who would often prefer signed or written language over voiced language. how ironic!
the difference being that written language happens to be considered a variant of voiced language. but they have very different modes of production and perception. voiced language is produced in the voiced speech apparatus (lungs, throat, mouth) and written language is produced by hand (handwriting or typing). voiced language is picked up as air vibrations in the ear (and partly through observation of head and lip movement), written language is picked up by vision or touch. so in a way, written languages are way closer to signed languages than to their voiced counterparts.
5. voiced language bias
sign language linguistics is considered a subdiscipline of linguistics. in some regions the study about sign languages is considered a subdiscipline of disablity studies. either way, it’s considered an atypical form of communication. this is super patronising towards several communication communities who happen to have a non-voiced language as their preferred mode of utterance production.
4.transcription & 3. vocal portion bias
anything that can be written down is graspable for academic work. phenomena that take longer time to develop a language for are less likely to be subject of inquiry. the less written-language-like a phenomenon is, the more difficult it is to hold onto, to grasp, to understand (cf. japanese 把握する haaaku suru (lit. “to bundle-grip”) swedish begripa (lit. “to begrip”), german begreifen (lit. “to begrip”) all meaning “to grasp”, “to understand”). so it is of rather high importance for written languages to be the standard in academia, the consequence of which is that written entities in linguistics gain more attention.
2. standard language bias
it is important to write in a standard form of written language. in case i am not able or willing to follow some guidelines, i will not be taken seriously by the scientific community. peer-review is also peer-pressure. there are ways of publishing work in video journals, which the author finds formidable. but unfortunately, also a video must contain some form of written or written-like language that conforms to the standards of the community.
the linguistic purism door swings both ways. in one direction it goes like: “hey we really have to have a common conforming language so that we’re all on common ground”. the other way goes like: “languages that are not like ours are not worth attention (because we can’t grasp them with our disembodied minds).”
1. written language bias
saussure, by taking language for granted, by viewing voiced and written languages as instances of the same thing and by having a disembodied world view concerning language, was pretty baffled when they found out that word and object are arbitrarily associated. saussure noticed that their own name, saussure, and the person “saussure” are associated, but in an inexplicable way. they just are connected. there’s nothing saussure-like about the word “saussure”. and there’s nothing dog-like in the word “dog”.
saussure created for themself an insoluable problem. it was an academic written-language biased culture that saussure’s observations emerged from. it was a culture that had viewed the body as an entirely different thing from mental activities. so it’s no surprise that saussure identified words as having no connection to the objects they “describe”. in fact, they don’t describe. they are. it’s the same kind of split. body and mind. object and name. the body is the mind.
the object is the name. what happens in linguistics is that object and it’s name are defined as different things. then somehow people forget that they did it and are baffled.
it’s not entirely my thing. and i don’t know how to make things better. this just an emotional rant. don’t take it too seriously. it’s not even got any references. i don’t like thinking. i just write out of the blue.