Where Is/Are the Where(s) of Linguistics?
by Candace Castaway
Professor of Bilbliomancy in Linguistics
The Δίς Λεγόμενον Centre for Endeepened Ideation
The bibliothèque with its sturdy columns, classical busts and Mount Rushmore-esque portraiture of the esteemed of yesteryear archetypifies the locale of intellect not merely on a socio-architectural level but, also (and pragma-ideationally more so) on a psycho-geographic level insofar as it constitutes a cognitively beneficent anti-Pandora’s Box. To reiterate, the psycho-geography of the bibliothèque both symbolises the aspirational grandeur of thought yet serves en même temps as a physicalised “T/temple” for the execution of praxis-driven academic liturgies anchored in and emergent from the mental processes of individual scholars.
Libraries are places where people can think.
Uncontested in the abstract, this episteme is both rational-empirical and social-utilitarian: chatter, bustle and the dynamics of perennial Heraclitean change, inevitable hallmarks of le monde quotidien, manifest as barriers to sustained reflective mental practices implying and necessitating self-removal. The bibliothèque, while topographised within the urbanoscape, borrows its essence from the Carthusian ideal of coelo silentium albeit with secular-cognitive (in lieu of religio-spiritual) teleologies as its constitutive ποῦ στῶ.
At the meta-disciplinary level, this narrative is both self-evident and arguably a socio-psychological necessary truth. Yet, when contextualised within the ideological, conceptual, epistemological, discipline-specific ontological, and historical-bureaucratic/administrative-institutional facets of a particular domain of enquiry, a necessary nuancification of the categorical abstractemes thus far articulated demands the continued attention of the reader-listener.
In no discipline is this more true than in linguistics. Both in the babble of Babel and the “bar-bar” of the notional barbarian, language intrudes by its very nature on the retirement-withdrawal psychodynamic of the bibliothèque. Sound as phone, chatter as utterance-enacted morphosyntactic string, and the pragmatic and quasi-syllogistic inherencies of the Austinian locution-illocution-perlocution tripartitism mock the affordances of the bibliothèque as a legitimate locus of linguistic cognisation.
Where, then, is the where of linguistics?
A partial response may lie in the informal gathering of linguistics faculty during periods of time allocated for or dedicated to shared eating practices. The social practice of “eating together” may be conceptualised as a discipline-specific quasi-library in which talk is talked but whose semi-apartness from the urbane acts of administration, student engagement, et cetera, serves to kaleidoscope in certain key and relevant features of the psycho-scape of the bibliothèque. Autrement dit, shared interactional spaces, albeit motivated by extra-linguistic necessities of consumption-imbibement, validate the observation that linguistics as word study most cleanly invites the study of words when words are enacted such that they may be studied in said enactment.
When linguists talk, they talk Talk in addition to (or alongside) mere(ly) talk(ing).
The logical development/continuation of this analysis facilitates an understanding of such practices as linguistic fieldwork. In engaging with real-world linguistic interactions, linguists allow themselves space away from the sanctum sanctorum of the bibliothèque in order to confront the actualities of word-as-action/syntagm-as-enaction and (en)acted utterance-in-context (this latter being the reification of the linguistic macrosphere). Ostensibly an inversion of the haecceitic stillness of the bibliothèque, this datumnial “squaring-up” exposes the scientist of language to the realities s/he seeks to understand.
Data is (or can be) “out there”.
This conclusion in no way undermines the importance of the bibliothèque in the travails of the linguist. It retains its Parmenidean monadic-monastic silence which itself retains its inscape unaltered by the externalities of “data”; however, in returning to the enclosure of the bibliothèque, such data as has been garnered may now be transformed by bibliothèque-esque processes that themselves process the linguistic-cisms of the bibliothèque-external κόσμος into bibliothèque-mediated—and thereby academically sanctioned—products. The wheres of Linguistics are multiple but the domain does not—and cannot—but remain aware of the where of the bibliothèque which is bedecked in—and continues to wear—its whereness as a key where of the field.