Linguistics Then and Now: Some Personal Reflections

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6 Scopus citations


By mid-twentieth century, a working consensus had been reached in the linguistics community, based on the great achievements of preceding years. Synchronic linguistics had been established as a science, a "taxonomic"science, with sophisticated procedures of analysis of data. Taxonomic science has limits. It does not ask "why?"The time was ripe to seek explanatory theories, using insights provided by the theory of computation and studies of explanatory depth. That effort became the generative enterprise within the biolinguistics framework. Tensions quickly arose: The elements of explanatory theories (generative grammars) were far beyond the reach of taxonomic procedures. The structuralist principle that language is a matter of training and habit, extended by analogy, was unsustainable. More generally, the mood of "virtually everything is known"became "almost nothing is understood,"a familiar phenomenon in the history of science, opening a new and exciting era for a flourishing discipline.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalAnnual Review of Linguistics
StatePublished - Jan 4 2021


  • autobiography
  • biolinguistics program
  • explanatory linguistic theory
  • explanatory theories
  • generative enterprise
  • history of linguistics
  • history of science

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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