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#1187: When will the sun rise on Corbett-land? DeGraff comments and Corbett invites off-list discussion

From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>

I must add a post-scriptum to my previous message, re Corbett's statement

> If Michel wishes to turn this list into a place where only those who meet
> his ideal of academic scholarship shall be allowed to speak, then I
> very much hope he fails.  I've sat in on these discussions since the list
> began 5 years ago and we've gotten by quite well with lots of plain talk,
> where, when disagreement arises, then people are free to add all the
> data they can muster.  But as a prior requirement for making claims,
> well I hope that gets reserved for more esoteric venues.  I serious doubt
> it would much attract the 800 some folks who read this list daily.

I too am in favor of "plain talk", and I hope that I too am able to use
"plain talk", specially when it contributes to understanding.  My problem
is not with "plain talk" in general, but specifically with "plain talk"
that is plain wrong and that makes no effort to seriously consider, and
that even rejects, available facts and documentation.

Of course, the problem "plain talk" that is plain-wrong is not just a
problem in Corbett-land.  The most spectacular example is the "plain talk"
use of phrases like "The sun rise" and "The sun sets".  In pre-Galileo
times, people were convinced that such "plain talk" actually DESCRIBES
reality.  Then came the (esoteric?) "violence" of Galileo's discovery.  And
the rest is history...

The morale is that "plain talk" (specially the kind that disregards basic
facts and basic scientific results) is not necessarily in sync with (and
often contradicts) rational inquiry.  The perennial language debates on
Corbett-land have been dominated by much plain-wrong "plain talk", with
relatively little efforts toward rational inquiry.  And this is true for
other cases of `language debates' in the popular press (see e.g. the
Ebonics debate a couple of years back).  

To try and correct this situation, I've often recommended to Corbetters
that they consult "plain talk" books that share basic results in
linguistics. But obviously the plain talkers on Corbett-land don't have
much time to consult such references.  If any of these books were consulted
(e.g. Pinker's popular _Language Instinct_), then much of the current
debate could have been avoided, for people would have understood that some
of their `linguistic' proposals are just unrealistic.  Or at least, we
could have had a more enlightened discussion.  

Is the looking-up of basic linguistic facts and documentation too much to
ask for people who seem genuinely interested in discussing (and solving!)
Haiti's linguistic situation? 

But I am not losing hope that the sun will one day rise on Corbett-land and


Corbett responds.  Michel raises an important issue, and Bellegarde-Smith
also contributed to a similar point.  I'd love to talk with interest folks
about it since I hold a different view, but the issue has nothing directly
relevant to Haiti, it's a question of epistemologies and stragegies for
communication in general.

Any wishing to talk more about it please let me know and I'll set up a
small ad-hoc list to address it.

Best,  Bob Corbett