An Optimality-Theoretic Account of the History of Linguistics: Past, Present, Future
by Timothy Pulju
Published 2006. Hardcover, xiii, 288 pages and fold-out center page. Price $99.95
Buoyed by the success of his “Stratificational Approach to Making Macaroni and Cheese”, Tim Pulju’s latest work adopts the machinery of Optimality Theory to describe the history of the field of linguistics.
Those who have followed Pulju’s meteoric career may be shocked to find the arch-stratificationalist seemingly abandoning stratificational approaches in favor of a more current, even trendy, theoretical system. Pulju, as always, has anticipated his critics. From the book’s introduction:
I have written previously:
It has long been a tenet of stratificational theory that stratificational notation is adaptable to extralinguistic structures. ... [N]ot only can we use relational networks in this way, but ... in fact a stratificational diagram is superior to, and should supplant, the traditional tool for visual transmission of information, namely written representation of natural human language. (Pulju 1988)
I have not abandoned this basic tenet. However, I wish to distinguish EXTRAlinguistic structures from METAlinguistic matters. The history of the field is certainly amenable to description in a relational network (as is anything and everything), but such a description, while studiously erudite and clearly transparent, lacks the deliciously harsh irony of an Optimality-Theoretic description which reveals the inevitable fate of Optimality Theory and stratificational linguistics. Perhaps I risk giving away too much.
His critics resoundingly silenced, Pulju moves on to meatier matters.
The heart of the work is presented in a stunning fold-out tableau, measuring fully 2x3 meters. Pulju’s analysis accounts for the entire history of the field; he takes as constraints the personalities, conferences, and major papers which have shaped the field, showing how these may be ranked to predict the emergence of specific theories and, ultimately, the state in which we find the field today.
The accuracy of the predictions made to date gives great weight to the analysis’ predictions that have yet to come to pass. Linguists everywhere will need to study this tome of impressive scholarship as a historical document, as a technical achievement, and as a prophetic vision of things to come. Those most wise will make sure they are well situated come the revolution.