A Possible Prional Source for Linguistic Degeneration from Prolonged Ailuric Exposure—B. Bubo, T. Tyto, S. Strix, and A. Asio SpecGram Vol CLIII, No 1 Contents The Hidden Language of Public Seduction—An Anthropological Linguistic Study of Spanyol—Claude Searsplainpockets

The Lexicalist Agenda
Exposing the Myths

by Quentin Popinjay Snodgrass, Ph.D.

The Reality of Lexicalism

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.

The Facts

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.
The lexicalist lifestyle and “professional” practices

  • A 2006 study by the League of Linguists (LOL) revealed that 50% of lexicalists have at one time or another espoused over 500 different theories of language.

  • In one study, two lexicalist researchers found that 73% of lexicalists did not believe in Universal Grammar.

  • 93% of lexicalists report having “scoffed” at Chomskyan syntactic analyses.

  • 92% report having asked pointed questions at talks.

  • 78% are regular shop-lifters.

  • More than 62% doubt the existence of the morpheme, and of those that do not, 82% question its explanatory power.

  • 12% report having been “fascinated” by Relational Grammar at some point in time during their professional career.

  • 100% have reported having direct contact with both graduate and undergraduate students!

Published by The Schwa Division, June, 2007.

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

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.

What We Can Do

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.

If you see a lexicalist...
  1. Don’t panic! As linguists, we must believe that, at heart, every lexicalist is simply misguided, and not inherently evil. Each one is worth saving!

  2. Be polite, but firm. As human beings and linguists, lexicalists deserve our respect. For the sake of our students, however, we maintain that they, as lexicalists, are doing damage to the academic community at large.

  3. Suggest an alternative. Most lexicalists want to be accepted within the community of linguistics scholars just like any other linguist. You’d be surprised how many lexicalists will rejoin the fold once they learn the error of their ways.

  4. Alert your colleagues. If the lexicalist persists, don’t attempt to combat him alone. Alert your colleagues, your department chair, and your university. With the full support of your academic institution behind you, you will be able to make a difference in the life of that poor, misguided lexicalist.

The first thing we as linguists should do is become informed about the lexicalist movement. To the extent that we are ignorant of the lexicalist agenda and unable to intelligently debate the issues, we will be unable to stop their advance. Don’t worry, though; you’ve taken a very important first step in reading this article. Good work!

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 fragmentedworshipping at the feet of different idols, so to speaklexicalism will flourish. We may all agree that lexicalist theories of grammar are absurd, but if we do not have one unified theory to bind us all together, we cannot inspire lexicalists to rejoin our ranks and return to the true path of knowledge and enlightenment. To this end, it is my duty as a sworn enemy of lexicalism to recommend that you purchase my recent monograph entitled The Theory of Everything: A concise description of all languages real and imagined, in which I describe Snodgrassianism, a single theory that describes all phonetic, phonological, morphological, syntactic, semantic and pragmatic phenomena discovered in languages both real and imagined thus far, and introduces the single linguistic unit common to all disciplines: the thingeme. If we join together as thingologists and confront lexicalism as a single, unified front, I know we will win the war to come! Take heart, and take no guff from the lexicalist insurgency! We shall triumph!

1 For more information, see Morontz (2006), The English Past Tense Morpheme Revisited (Again).

2 Emphasis added (but appropriately so!).

3 Many of the facts discussed herein come directly from the results of several probing surveys I plan to conduct early next year.

4 See Snodgrass (to appear), Reference Library: A list of facts that you can cite someone as having said at some point in time.

5 For strategies, see Snodgrass (to appear), Winning the Fight: The Browbeater’s Guide to the Lexicalist Agenda.

A Possible Prional Source for Linguistic Degeneration from Prolonged Ailuric Exposure—B. Bubo, T. Tyto, S. Strix, and A. Asio
The Hidden Language of Public Seduction—An Anthropological Linguistic Study of Spanyol—Claude Searsplainpockets
SpecGram Vol CLIII, No 1 Contents