Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 13

Hi again, everybody! It is D-Day and I hereby pay tribute to the many thousands of brave young men from the Allied Nations who fell on the beaches of Normandy 69 years ago. My Dad came through and duly married my Mum in 1947, hence me! My brother & I visited the sites in 1988.

‘Hall Of Shame’ continues (early this week because my beloved & I are away in Yorkshire 7-9/6: Knaresborough Bed Race, Leeds vs Castleford at Rugby League, tour of the Allerton Hall stately home, etc).


I stress that van Polanen Petel (henceforth vPP) should NOT be visited with any shame; he is merely a very unusual Dutch thinker about language who was once my mature student (Monash University, Melbourne), continued to postgrad level there (despite the stimulating and varied – although of course clearly mainstream – environment of the Linguistics Department at Monash, the originality, not to say the strangeness, of his ideas is thus especially startling) and often, as it seems, fails to note quite HOW unusual his ideas are!

A key strength of vPP’s thought is that – like that of some prominent mainstream linguists such as Geoffrey Sampson and Peter Matthews – it is not closely bound to particular linguistic ‘paradigms’ or ‘frameworks’. However, a less welcome corollary of this feature is the idiosyncratic and often eccentric character of the notions expounded, many of which are presented as if the modern discipline of linguistics barely existed by way of background to the discussion. In many respects, in fact, the background to vPP’s views and approaches is mainly philosophical in character, including extensive reference to thinkers such as Wittgenstein, Quine, etc. Indeed, the concepts used are often related to the interesting but (in empirical domains) arguably superseded ideas of ANCIENT philosophers, notably Aristotle. vPP’s specifically linguistic sources, too, are often of great interest but mostly rather dated; recent work is not adequately taken into account. Furthermore, vPP often seems to believe that he has demonstrated the validity/truth of a point (often a strongly critical point which he himself is making in comment on an existing viewpoint) when in fact it appears that at best he has demonstrated that it is not impossible that his point is valid/true.

For instance, in his paper ‘On the notion Proper Language’ (Language Sciences, 28 (2006), pp. 508-520), vPP proposes that the traditional and still popular (folk-linguistic) notion of ‘proper language’ needs to be taken seriously by linguists. But he in fact distinguishes ‘proper language’ from the sociolinguistic notion of a ‘standard variety’, developing a piecemeal, idiosyncratic account of the former notion almost from scratch. His concluding discussion is predominantly in terms of logical/philosophical rather than linguistic or sociolinguistic properties of usage, and also very dense in terms of its argumentation; the strength of the claims made is unclear, and their specific relevance to the notion of ‘proper language’ as such is left rather obscure.

If I publish a second edition of my book or extended material conceived of as expansions of the book, I propose to review this paper as part of this enterprise.

More next time!


For my new book Strange Linguistics, see:

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany. Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address.

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