Date: Tue, 10 Oct 1995 08:34:23 -0500 From: Shana Walton Subject: PBS language series and ling funding Xpost from LINGUIST: > ------------------------------------------------------------------------ > 2) > Date: Tue, 03 Oct 1995 15:08:54 PDT > From: LANGENDOEN[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] (Terry Langendoen) > Subject: from Gene Searchinger, re PBS series on linguistics > > This is from Gene Searchinger, producer of THE HUMAN LANGUAGE SERIES > that appeared on PBS this year. He'd like to make an announcement, and > answer some of the letters that have appeared here. He says: > > Dear linguists, > > The 3-part film series is now available to universities on video > cassette. We have just sent out a mailing about it. Call 800-343-5540 > if you didn't get it. Now, comments. > > > Thanks to all of you who have said such kind things. Thanks to all the > participants (about 50 linguists and "others"), and thanks especially to > the hundreds of you whom we interviewed but couldn't get into the > programs. Because three one-hour shows is too short, many wonderful > people had to be left out and fascinating topics had to be dropped for > time. Understandably, a few people wrote that "you didn't say enough > about our side." They're right and, of course, there are many sides. > So choices had to be made. George Miller got us started with four > outstanding consultants (Terry Langendoen, Ivan Sag, Judy Kegl, and Dan > Slobin). But the final selection of participants was made by us and by > fate. Geo is in no way guilty of our failings. > > Dan Slobin reacted to all this with kind understanding, and Lise Menn > picked up on a supremely important part of the problem: funding the > series. There is an interesting linkage here, between funding problems > and the choices we made about subject matter. > > The linkage factor is the massive lack of awareness about language on > the part of the general public on the one hand, and the potential > funders on the same hand. Did you know that not a single foundation > (not one among the thousands) has "language" or "linguistics" on its > approved list of fundable subjects? This is a non topic to them. (And > no private corporation showed the slightest knowledge or interest.) > Why is language so little understood? Why is THE HUMAN LANGUAGE SERIES > the only resource like this available to teachers in psychology, > linguistics, and all the language arts? And, given the problem, how did > we ever get the project off the ground in the first place? > > Answer: because two, and now three federal government agencies do have > linguistics on their list of fundable topics, and none of them had > succeeded in finding a TV project worthy of their attention, they said, > until we came along. (The agencies are the NEH, the NSF, and - now - > the NIMH.) They were pleased that, at last, they could do something to > enlighten people about linguistics. Hurray for government funding! > Down with the Congress that wants to kill it off. > > Because of the mass ignorance we found in the general audience, > spreading the word is important. How ignorant are they out there? My > estimate is that 98% of our audience and our potential funders believes > some or all of the following: > > That there must be - oh - 300 languages in the world; that there are 32 > words for snow in Eskimo; that Natives in Darkest Africa speak in > grunts; that sign language is the same thing worldwide, so why don't we > all learn it?; that Ozark is leftover Elizabethian English; that a > linguist is someone who knows a lot of languages; that people in the > inner cities - meaning blacks - speak a debased English with > impoverished vocabulary and a vast ignorance of grammar; that everyone > learns language from their parents (they all believe this). And > Chomsky? Isn't he that guy who - uh - something political... > > The general public's knowledge about language is so primitive (as mine > was when I started), that we view important arguments between > "functionalists" and "nativist," for example, as too special for the > immediate task. Our job, we believe, is to deliver the shocking news > that: Many leading linguists believe there are aspects of langusge that > we do not need to learn in the usual way; that chimpanzees and dolphins > cannot learn human syntax, NOVA to the contary notwithstanding; that the > languages of the world have basic things in common; that children have a > grasp of grammar before they know how to tie their shoes; that facial > expressions in Papua New Guinea are largely the same as they are on 72nd > Street and Broadway; that important things happened in evolution when > our larynx "fell"; that words are indefinable constructions that must be > learned but that sentences are created new each time; and so on and so > on. Those were the kinds of things we made the show about, because > people don't know them. The subtleties of "learning," to pick an issue > singled out by Liz Bates, must be left to you to explain in the > classroom. > > To help me make the point, here is part of a letter we just received > from the Vice-Rector of Minsk State Linguistics University, Professor > Arnold E. Michnevich: > > Your [series] is beyond doubt a unique achievement ...To many of our > researchers the films have become a stimulus to better understanding complex > linguistic phenomena and their non-traditional interpretations. One cannot but > > be but impressed by the highest possible level of scientific research attained > and its superb presentation. > > To all you wonderful linguists: Keep up the good fight - among > yourselves, if you must - but mostly to educate the rest of us. > > Thanks. Gene Searchinger > > > > > > ****************************************************************** > Terry Langendoen, Dept Linguistics, U Arizona, Tucson AZ 85721 USA > Phone: +1 520 621-4790 Fax: +1 520 621-9424 > Email: langendt[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]Arizona.EDU OR langendoen[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]linguistics.Arizona.EDU > WWW homepage: url= > I'm currently on sabbatial and only checking email irregularly. > ------------------------------------------------------------------------ > LINGUIST List: Vol-6-1372. >