Historiography’s contribution to theoretical linguistics

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Given the rich, multidisciplinary developments that have influenced linguistic theory and practice over the past fifty years, we historiographers are uniquely positioned to provide some much needed theoretical integration for the discipline in these post-Chomskyan times. We do so when we shift from practicing historiography as a subdiscipline to deploying it as a method of theoretical intervention. The goal of this essay is to sketch the results of a historiographicallyinformed critique of introductory linguistics textbooks – all of whose formats extend back to Leonard Bloomfield’s Language (1933) – and to offer the outline of a newer developmental linguistics which is: (a) reframed pragmatically by establishing from the beginning an embodied brain embedded in a context; and (b) organized not around the questions: What is language? or What do we know when we know a language? but rather around: How is it that hearing a sequence of sounds (or seeing a sequence of signs or reading a sequence of words) have the effects that they do? This conceptual shift entails addressing two new questions: How does a living being become a languaging living being? and How do we become the particular languaging living beings that we do? In order to answer these questions, both a phylogenetic script and an ontogenetic script need to be provided. Such an approach avoids the problem of the linguist who inherits a construct (e.g. Universal Grammar) and then must retrofit it to contemporary evolutionary and neurological research. It offers instead to our students – the future of the field – a theoretical account of our subject matter (language/ languaging) whose evolutionary and neurological plausibility have been factored in from the beginning.


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