Barnyard Linguistics—Carle Day-Tepharmer SpecGram Vol CLXXIV, No 3 Contents L’Ishing du Gwujlang VI—Phicorthogra—Dorothea Dorfman and Theodora Mundorf

Why Linguistic Theories Fail,
by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

Reviewed by Morris Swadesh III

Continuing to extend the ideas of their blockbuster success Why Nations Fail and its ever-growing line of applications to subjects of decreasing international significance, including Why Political Parties Fail, Why Universities Fail, Why Major Motion Pictures Fail, Why Debut Novels Fail, and most recently Why Peach Pies Fail, Acemoglu and Robinson turn their analytical attentions to the study of language in their newest offering Why Linguistic Theories Fail.

The stakes could not be lower, and frankly, the analysis is correspondingly disappointing.

The central tenet of the parent analysis, Why Nations Fail, is that a successful state must combine political centralization with inclusive political and economic institutions, such that people have motivation to innovate while feeling secure that their innovations will benefit them personally. So far, so good. But the application of this principle to linguistic theories proceeds roughly according to this inexplicable “logic”:

This reader found the analysis shallow and unworthy both of the original book Why Nations Fail (which is pretty good), and of the discipline of Linguistics (which I consider to be much more like an apple pie than a peach one). It is not clear from the text whether the authors actually read Saussure or Bloomfield. They do include a lot of quotes from Sapir, but so does everybody, so that doesn’t really prove they read him either. (Nobody reads Chomsky, so I don’t care if they did or not.)

The main hope that this reviewer can hold out is this: Acemoglu and Robbins have finally probed the least significant topic they can think of, and this may well be the last book they write.

Barnyard LinguisticsCarle Day-Tepharmer
L’Ishing du Gwujlang VIPhicorthograDorothea Dorfman and Theodora Mundorf
SpecGram Vol CLXXIV, No 3 Contents