Date: Thu, 22 Dec 1994 11:24:00 EST

From: "Dennis.Preston" 22709MGR[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]MSU.EDU

Subject: No subject given

Friends of ADS:

I am happy to have generated more careful consideration of the annual

meeting site for ADS. I might have said my piece and bided my time, but I

believe some of the observations brought up contain inaccuracies which

need to be cleared up, and, perhaps more importantly, gaps of information

which need to be filled. Finally, I will indulge in a little more reflective


First, it is not the case that Walt Wolfram and Natalie Schilling-Estes are not

members of the ADS, as Bill Kretzschmar's first message claims. (My wife

is not proof-reading this, so you will have to put up with my 'not ... not'

constructions.) Natalie is, in fact, a Presidential Honorary Member (see p.

18, NADS 26.3, September 1994 and confirm WaltUs membership on p. 19

of the same issue). Much more important, however, than this minor

correction is the fact that Walt (a stalwart of ADS) recruits his students for

us and conveys to them the centrality of the Society to their interests in

variation. That is, of course, exactly the path I hope more young scholars

will take.

Second, I am very sympathetic to our relationship to NWAV (for some time

now, in spite of some local variation [actually performance errors], properly

without the 'E'). Bill Kretzschmar and others have already mentioned one

obstacle to this, and I agree. NWAV is not an organization; it has a loosely-

structured planning committee, and its annual site is planned on the spot,

year-by-year. Of course, we should have a strong presence there. It is, as

Peter Patrick, Edgar Schneider, and others have pointed out, the one

meeting which has the greatest number of presentations of interest to ADS

members. More importantly, however, and perhaps Peter and others are not

aware of this, NWAV has been, at least from time to time, relatively

inhospitable to the idea of autonomous sessions by outside organizations.

At some NWAV meetings, NWAV reviewers (not an ADS panel) have

reviewed and selected all papers. If we offer an ADS sanctioned section,

that is perhaps not an unreasonable demand for them to make, but it would

certainly be inappropriate for our major, independent meeting. It certainly

does not meet the requirements of any who would want us to come out from

under the umbrella of any sister organizations. In contrast, LSA not only

allows us to present our own program but also (as I am sure Allan Metcalf

will confirm) supports our cooperation with them with a competent and

friendly support staff. Bill Kretzschmar's claim that we were not mentioned

in the preliminary program (in the last LSA Bulletin) can, I am sure, be

corrected by a simple request, and, as Larry Horn points out, we are fully

featured in the official program handbook. On this matter, I think we can

have the best of both worlds. We can enjoy the regular scheduling and

excellent support facilities of LSA for our most important annual meeting,

and we can continue to be a strong presence at NWAV, lobbying for our

control of our session and attracting the younger scholars who share the

greatest number of interests with members of our Society.

Finally, I must take great issue with Bill Kretzschmar's claim that it is not

painfully obvious that the program (and publications) of LSA are of more

interest to us than those of MLA. I will bite my finger and avoid any

caricature of what sorts of things are presented at MLA (and appear in

PMLA). Those who have the program may have a look.

I do not, however, find such a gap at LSA. A cursory examination of this

year's program reveals a great deal that I am sorry to have to miss. There is

a great deal on aspect, some papers featuring reconstruction concerns from a

geographical point of view. There is a full-blown section on historical

linguistics treating such important topics as word-frequency effects and

semantic reconstruction. A entire symposium deals with the role of language

and sexual harassment. Walt Wolfram and Natalie Schilling-Estes'

presentation is, in fact, a part of the 'Endangered Languages' session,

extended to include 'endangered dialects.' The discourse and pragmatics

sessions feature presentations on ellipsis in conversational English, focus,

animacy restrictions on English 'have' complements, and the prosodic

organization of discourse. The phonetics session features a presentation on

vowel reduction in American English. A special session on negation and

polarity will offer a talk on 'any' in English, a perennial problem in

variation studies. Semantics presentations deal with a number of semanto-

syntactic features which specifically vary in American English varieties

(e.g., 'respectively' and 'before'), and the sociolinguistics section is filled

with items of specific interest to ADS members (e.g., 'steady' in AAVE,

variation and dialect contact, variation and optimality theory, and register

shifting in Cajun English).

That a larger number of those who are presenting papers at this year's LSA

are not members of ADS is, I think, proof of my point rather than the

opposite. Why are we not attracting the younger scholars (by far the great

majority of presenters, by the way) who have obvious interests in variation,

some, even specific interests in variation in the English of the United States?

I am also unhappy to find Language caricatured as a journal which contains

nothing of interest to ADS members. (Why do I bother to read it?) Reviews

and articles which specifically deal with variation topics (e.g., Jack

Chambers 'dialect acquisition' article in December 1992) are frequent,

although I think this is almost beside the point. We have American Speech,

PADS, JEngL, LinS, LVC, and other outlets where one would expect a

much higher concentration of articles on variation. Other sub-fields of

linguistics are treated no better in Lg.

More to the point, however, are the 'other' (non-variationist) articles in Lg

(and the nonvariationist sessions at LSA). They are, frankly, about stuff I

am interested in. The last issue I have in hand (September 1994) has a lead

article on 'phonetic knowledge,' an extremely important consideration for

those who want to consider the ability of speakers to acquire other varieties

(or pieces of other varieties) as part of the motivation for dialect change.

Even beyond the immediate relevance of this article (and many more like it),

I would want to claim that the great majority of articles in Lg are of

importance to variationists. I find in it claims about universals, for example,

which make me wonder about the degree of 'unitariness' of the language

competence of speakers of the same language but different dialects, a theme

chosen for one of the regional linguistic meetings in Canada this year and

broached in several pieces in Trudgill and Chambers 'Dialects of English'

(Longman 1991).

I will not bother you with too much more of this. For me, dialectology

(and, therefore, our Society) is intimately bound up not only with historical

linguistics, language and society, and quantitative sociolinguistics but also

with general, theoretical linguistics. Of course, people in literature, cultural

geography, education and many other fields make use of (or should make

use of) our descriptive and interpretive findings (as we may make use of the

results of their work), but I belong to the ADS because I belong to the

dialectologist/sociolinguist branch of linguistics. I welcome ADS members

from other fields, but, to my mind, they are tails, and I am the dog. (I am

sorry I wrote that, but I can handle the responses.)

I might add that an equally serious part of my evangelical work is to make

variation studies of increasing important to general linguistics. When I

arrived at my present position, some of the smart-alec linguistic theory

graduate students referred to sociolinguistics in general as 'Gee-whiz'

linguistics. ('Is that what they say over there? Gee whiz.') The label was

not polite; they assumed that we collected it, mounted it, and admired it (the

reference is to entomology, by the way). I am happy to report that I have

not given such swell grades to a few of them who have shown themselves

to be incapable of following through a full program of hypothesis building

and testing (with appropriate scientific discipline) of questions of language

variation (and the relevance of those question to central questions of the

general discipline).

In conclusion, I believe it takes good linguists to do good dialectology, and

I mean to include the collection of regionally distributed stuff as much as I

mean the interpretation of such stuff or the uses of it in the construction and

destruction of the hypotheses bound to more general questions of language

structure and change. I have a great deal of respect for and make use of the

descriptive record of our Society, and I hope to encourage that respect in

younger linguists. I believe we may move in that direction without giving

up one whit of our relationship with such important allied areas as folklore

and popular culture, education, literature, and others.

I ask you again, in light of our status as linguists and in light of the

importance of our work to the general work of the field, to ask those who

will make this decision to make the right one for the Society. Those younger

colleagues whom we will recruit cannot simply choose to go to another

conference, and I fear that that enthusiasm for the field which inspired many

of us may be lost in the next generation. If we continue to have our most

important annual meeting with a literary society (in spite of its name), we

run exactly that risk.

Dennis R. Preston