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The Linguistics Delusion

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Linguistics is a subject which came to the fore only in the 1960s. It is founded on a fallacy. Linguistics claims to be ‘the scientific study of language’, but language behaviour is too open-ended and creative to be treated by the methods of science. In consequence, linguistic theories systematically distort the nature of language, and present a misleading picture of our human nature. Geoffrey Sampson shows how various traditions of linguistics, and their accounts of different aspects of language, are all infected by the delusion of scientism. And he offers positive examples of how language can be studied insightfully, once the scientistic delusion is given up.

Published: Sep 14, 2017

Section Chapter Authors
Acknowledgements Geoffrey Sampson
1. Introduction Geoffrey Sampson
Section I: Language Over-theorized
2. Two Ideas of Creativity Geoffrey Sampson
3. Grammaticality Meets Real-life Usage Geoffrey Sampson
4. Rigid Strings and Flaky Snowflakes Geoffrey Sampson
5. Economic Growth and Linguistic Theory Geoffrey Sampson
6. The 'Cognitive' Alternative Geoffrey Sampson
7. One Man's Norm is Another's Metaphor Geoffrey Sampson
Section II: Writing Systems
8. From Phonemic Spelling to Distinctive Spelling Geoffrey Sampson
9. The Reality of Compound Ideographs Geoffrey Sampson
Section III: Language Complexity
10. A Linguistic Axiom Challenged Geoffrey Sampson
11. Complexity in Language and in Law Geoffrey Sampson
Section IV: And Now for Something Completely Different ...
12. A Phonological Paradox Geoffrey Sampson
13. How Many Possible Trade Names are There? Geoffrey Sampson
14. Envoi Geoffrey Sampson
End Matter
References Geoffrey Sampson
Index Geoffrey Sampson


I am sympathetic to Sampson’s claim that the various theoretical approaches he discusses are inadequate for explaining how language is used in everyday life. This is why one can find linguists in a variety of disciplines – in university linguistics, English, psychology, computer science, communication disorders, and anthropology departments as well as in industry, working for editing firms, advertising firms, small start-ups, and large companies like Google – with a variety of research interests and methodological expertise. Scientific research in linguistics can run the gamut from descriptive analyses to assessing statistical probabilities of studied phenomena, to treatments for language disorders.
Journal of Linguistics

[Linguists] could do worse than to take seriously Sampson’s call for an academic environment which tolerates dissent from monologizing theoretical discourses and holds its members accountable to such scholarly values as self-consistency.
Applied Linguistics