My first encounter with lexicalism was not in an adversarial context. I hadn’t thought much about lexicalism, so, for the most part, I hadn’t developed a theory of what lexicalism was, what led to its espousal, or what, if anything, should be done about it. I was simply repulsed by it and thought it was immoral.
Professor I. M. Underhanded (not his name) was a good friend from a nearby university (for their protection, I won’t say which). Though he seemed somewhat skeptical of the Minimalist Program, it never crossed my mind that he might be a lexicalist. Our friendship revolved around our mutual distrust of Optimality Theory and its proponents, and our admiration for those still willing (and physically able) to do fieldwork. You see, Underhanded claimed to be a linguist.
Our friendship proceeded as normal, until one day when a visiting scholar came to give a talk. Underhanded and I accompanied one another to the Daniel Scriptovious Conference Room, as we were wont to do, and attended the talk together. I must admit, it was a fascinating Distributed Morphological account of the prefixal nature of the English past tense -ed “suffix”,1 but I noticed that my colleague appeared to be growing steadily more and more distressed as the talk progressed. As our presenter discussed how the past tense prefix ed- undergoes rightward dislocation just before spellout, I noticed Underhanded wince, visibly, and begin to fidget with his handout, rolling up the edge of the paper, folding the corners, and so on. Towards the end of the presentation, he was even heard to sigh audibly, and I saw him glance at his watch on more than one occasion (and I was not the only one who noticed this).
Afterwards, when we were preparing for a wine and cheese reception, Underhanded caught my eye, and I could see that he was troubled. He called me over, and said to me (and I’ll never forget these words), “Could I share something with you in private?”2 Perhaps that extra prepositional phrase at the end should have given me pause, but, giving my “friend” the benefit of the doubt, I followed him to his office. Looking both ways cautiously before opening the door, he let us in, and shut the door quickly, locking it behind it us. He turned on the radio (which alarmed me, I’ll admit), and brought his face close to my ear. “I’ve been reading some fascinating material,” he hissed at me. From inside a locked drawer in his desk, he produced several books and papers by authors I’d never heard of: Bochner, Aronoff, Ackerman, Anderson, Stump, Matthews... Who were these people? Then came the bombshell: “I,” he said slowly, pausing for dramatic effect, “have been reading up on lexicalism.”
At this point, I should have excused myself and departed. But, out of a sense of duty to (or perhaps pity for) my colleague, and, I’ll admit, morbid curiosity, I stayed. “I see,” I muttered. This was a mistake. Heartened by my reaction, he began to babble on about who knows what, his face lighting up as he discussed various analyses of phenomena in languages from every corner of the globe, none of which I’d heard of. I was beginning to feel rather hot and uncomfortable. And when he asked me if I wanted to look over a book by Blevins on Estonian... Well, I am not ashamed to admit that I bolted for the door, and, literally, ran out of his office screaming.
Were this an isolated incident, it might be easy to ignore. But the fact of the matter is that I hear similar stories every single day from linguists across the country. Well, so what, you may say? Why the bother? What ever happened to the old adage of “live and let live”? If someone wants to be a lexicalist, why is that anyone else’s business? If you’ve asked yourself questions like these, perhaps it would help to alert you to what lexicalism is all about.
Though it is true that individual lexicalists may differ in their opinion regarding topics such as undergraduate and graduate education, there is a strong movement in our field whose agenda is specific and whose effect is spilling beyond the lexicalist community. Its agenda is forcing lexicalism upon many who reject the notion that lexicalism is a legitimate research program.3
The issue of lexicalism, I’m afraid, is not simply a matter of what goes on between a couple of linguists in the privacy of their own offices. Basic elements of the field are targets of change. There are issues that defy neutrality. Consider these goals that the lexicalist community seeks to achieve:4
The teaching of lexicalist theories of grammar at all levels of education.
A redefinition of “morphology” to include the full diversity of all theories of grammar (including non-
Access to all linguistic conferences in the United States, and abroad.
Custody, adoption and foster care rights for lexicalists.
If this wave of lexicalist dogma is to be curbed, we must unite and form a solid front. Let us make it clear. We resist the effort of the lexicalist community to establish their theories as legitimate.
Though the situation may seem dire, there is hope. When asking ourselves the question “What should we do?” there are at least two distinct issues before us that we shouldn’t confuse. First, there is the concern about how we can forestall the further advance of the lexicalist agenda. Second, there is the concern about what we can do for lexicalists themselves. As the first issue is more pressing, we should give it our full attention; the second we can leave to our graduate students to puzzle over.
Second, we must work to change as many minds to a proper understanding of this issue as we can. Lexicalism can no longer be an issue that we are too shy to confront publicly.5
Finally, and, perhaps, most importantly, we must identify and adopt a unified theory of language. As long as we, the real linguists, remain fragmented
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|The Hidden Language of Public Seduction—An Anthropological Linguistic Study of Spanyol—Claude Searsplainpockets|
|SpecGram Vol CLIII, No 1 Contents|