2005 | 47 | 109-117
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The present paper intends to voice a series of critical observations based on the author's thirty-five years in the field, while at the same time offering a number of suggestions as to how the history of linguistics may improve its scholarship, and its image. Several years ago, members of the Henry Sweet Society got to read a lengthy quotation from Frederick Neumeyer's introduction to his 1996 book 'Generative Linguistics: A historical perspective' in which he reports that many of his colleagues 'feared that (he) would become tarred with the brush of being an 'historian of linguistics', who, (-), occupy a status level even lower than that of a 'semiotician' ' (HSS Bulletin 26.25). Newmeyer explained 'That this attitude results from the belief that most people who write on the history of linguistics have only the most minimal training in modern linguistics and devote their careers to attempting to demonstrate that their pet medieval grammarian or philosopher thought up some technical term before somebody's else's pet medieval grammarian or philosopher' (1996: 2). This is no doubt a caricature of what most of us have been doing during the past twenty and more years, but the suspicion may be lurking that on some aspects Newmeyer's friends may not have been entirely off the mark. One does not have to share Rüdiger Schreyer's more recent assessment either according to which 'nobody takes much interest in, or notice of, linguistic historiography - nobody in the big world beyond the ivory towers (of academe) and nobody in the linguistic community that is the natural habitat of the linguistic historiographer' (2000: 206), and maybe this would be too much to expect: 'beyond the ivory towers' even Noam Chomsky would not have become as widely known had he not become a critic of US foreign policy. Peter Schmitter is no doubt right in saying that it is not enough to write 'intelligent treatises on the necessity and usefulness of historiographic research', but his concession (Schmitter 2003a: 214) that he himself has no concrete proposal to make as to how to remedy the situation is not too encouraging. It may well be that many practitioners of linguistic historiography have become too self-satisfied and inward looking over the years, given the availability of three journals, several bulletins, an ever-increasing number of colloquia, conferences, and other international meetings around the world. It seems to me that there is enough blame to go around. One may be more inclined to share Peter Schmitter's disappointment that the findings of linguistic historiography have not successfully entered into textbooks, dictionaries of linguistic terminology, and other such places.
  • E. F. K. Koerner, Zentrum fuer Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ZAS) Jagerstr. 10/11, D-10117 Berlin, Germany
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