A study of how language and thought relate to each other in the context of a critique of linguistics. The author argues that people learn the meanings of pieces of language by observing how those pieces are used in life.
• What language is
• The emptiness of analysis
• Chomskyan mistakes made plain
• Unapplied linguistics
• The fantasy of structure
• More fantasy of structure
• Ungenerative grammar
• Deep confusion
• Being able to use language
• Thinking and language
• Language the corrupter
• Trying to speak the truth
• Slavery to authority and the word
For thousands of years it was the priests of religion who were the experts not only on the nature of the universe but also on the nature of man. So it was largely accepted that it was the priests, too, who should tell humans how they should act.
Over the greater part of the world that has changed. The new experts on the nature of humankind and on human needs are the 'social scientists' of psychology, sociology, economics, ethology, linguistics. They may disagree among themselves, just as the priests did. But just as the priests' authority was almost universally respected whatever they said at different times and in different places, so the 'social scientists' are widely accepted as the only proper source of understanding, their way of discovering truth as the only possible way.
From the rule of 'infallible' science there seems to be no appeal. One can reject the old dogmas. They were based on mere superstition and wishful thinking. But the new, those one must accept, because they are based on evidence. They are scientific. And everything scientific is true. 'Old' religions normally only claim revelation and faith as authority. Rebels can, at worst, claim a different revelation, a different faith. They can even appeal to reason. But that which claims to be science is an even more unbending master than intolerant religion, for it is knowledge, the final truth, and from that there can be no appeal. So the new religion of Marxism, for example, or the new discovery of linguistics, had to be the truth, because they are based on scientific analysis.
Today the 'scientific' analysers are the academics. Truth comes from them, practically only from them. They are the professionals who know what they are talking about. So if there is debate and questioning it is debate and questioning that goes on almost entirely within that circle of academic experts. Outsiders are untrained and so unfit to have opinions worth listening to - so practically nobody outside ever tries to interfere, for any who do will almost certainly not have any notice taken of them. In fact, I think very few outside the universities even dream of speaking up, because they feel they would have to do so on the academics' own terms, and so would make amateurish fools of themselves.
Yet the power of the half-secret lores of the academic world needs to be questioned. Those lores capture the minds of nearly all those who come in contact with them, those who are considered the most intelligent members of the community, and so those who to a large extent are given the power to design how our lives should be, now and in the future.
But today there is so much 'literature', there is so much 'research' done, that how does one know what to have faith in? How does one know who to trust? Respect for the literature and for research only means putting oneself deeper into the hands of the experts, happily leaving it to others, a special caste, to tell us how things are, and how, in the end, therefore, we need to behave. We need less reading and more thinking.
If people are not going to surrender completely to authority they must decide for themselves on the basis of what they have the time and ability to read or hear, and understand, and must be respected for conclusions they make in this way. Experts in any field that those experts think affects other people's lives have a duty to explain their conclusions and the basis of their conclusions in such a way that makes them open to judgement by people who are not experts. What matters in the end, or what should matter, is the reality of what people in general actually believe and think. The arrogance of any other approach appears even greater when one remembers that the particular dogmas one will be expected to bow to depend on the chance of things like birthplace. The only thing all the experts everywhere and at all times will agree upon is their superiority as experts.
The abstractions that are 'over the heads' of all but an elite few are probably not very dangerous. A far more serious matter is the 'wisdom' that millions of people think they do understand, things therefore that are widely believed with little or no question precisely because they come from experts.
Now we need to question that 'wisdom' and give their rightful place to plain truths and rationality - the plain truths almost anyone can discover with a few minutes' straight thinking based on elementary knowledge. What is really important for us to look at is the effect of research and the literature on the attitudes and beliefs of people generally. Independent of what has gone before, free of the academic traditions and the literature and the preconceived notions, in this book I want to bring some of the plain truths to the surface in their own right.
'Direct and forthright. . . Amorey Gethin seeks to demolish a whole scaffolding of linguistic theory and linguistic endeavour. . . He argues by analysis and example, and he argues very powerfully. ' – Language International
'It is a reasoned and clearly argued critique of standard practices of how and why we speak, and it is also a very palatable way of reassessing and grasping Chomsky's linguistic hypotheses. . . Thoroughly recommended. ' – Freedom