25 September 2008

Language as it happens

In linguistics, and probably elsewhere in the human sciences, there is nothing more imperfect than a theory that is in search of perfection. Many linguists spend their entire academic life working on abstract entities that they call 'languages', or 'grammars'. They apply a given theory (structuralism, generative grammar, etc.) or try to devise a new one, which is probably as artificial and detached from reality as the ones before it. What for? Are they trying to unveil the hidden secrets of language by means of rules and parameters? Are they trying to find a flawless description of human languages?

I see linguistics differently. A casual conversation between people, no matter where it takes place or what it is about (people chatting in the street, on the bus, families gathering round a table to talk about the old times and the new, a mother talking to her baby, a child trying to communicate with words), tells us more about language than many books written by theoretical linguists.

Human language is a treasure, and it's alive.

(Alternatively, we can use because instead of and in the sentence above; another option is with but, especially if we are addressing a theoretician).


JoseAngel said...

Maybe you would find the approach of integrational linguists, like Roy Harris, more consonant with your conception of the way language works. Roy Harris says that languages "don't exist". He exaggerates, of course.

Jesús Sanchis said...

Thank you for your comments. I must confess I had never heard about Roy Harris and 'integrational linguistics', but it all sounds interesting. Who knows? I might be writing a post about him in the future.