Folk Linguistics

Folk Linguistics

Folk Linguistics

Folk Linguistics


"Folk knowledge of language has not engaged linguists very often in the history of that field. Introductory texts often disparage folkbelief in contrast to 'scientific truth'. In fact, language is a ubiquitous topic of discussion and general concern of the folk. They talk about grammar, pronunciation, first and second language learning, language disabilities, dialects, gender and language, and a host of other topics. This book approaches such beliefs as one of most important aspects of ethnography. Surely what a people believe about their language is as important as any other key to an understanding of their culture. This fascinating book investigates how non-linguists think and talk about language, an area overlooked by linguists, as the authors show."Joseph Salmons in: Diachronica


One of the most exciting things that is happening in the academic world
today is the small steps we are beginning to make towards destroying…
elitism. Although the trend for many years was toward ever-increasing
degrees of specialization with concomitant scorn for all that was not spe
cialized, such a position is less well received in today's world. (Shuy

This is a book of stankos, a term Leonard Bloomfield's family used to describe the language beliefs of nonlinguists. It is no accident that it looks like a noun form of stank, for Bloomfield held the opinion of nonlinguists in low regard; many linguists have shared and continue to share that opinion.

We have sought out and even encouraged stankos, for we believe that what the folk believe about language deserves careful consideration. This is justified along several lines:

1. The study of folk beliefs about language is one of the ethnographies of a culture. In ethnobotany one wants to learn (at least) a culture's beliefs about the naming of, relationships among, and uses for plants. Ethnolinguistics should do the same, but the contrast between folk and scientific linguistics will be more complex than that between many other ethnosciences and their academic partners, particularly in a nonhomogeneous, post-modern society.

The role of language and its attendant beliefs ought to be set in the larger framework of the culture under investigation, for ethnolinguistics may not be just more complex than ethnobotany or ethnogeology, but more complex in subtle ways. If it is believed (and reported) that a certain plant is good for settling the stomach, it would be odd to find it seldom used for that purpose (unless some taboo restricted its use). A contrast between belief and use in language, however, is not an uncommon state of affairs; this apparent mismatch requires greater subtlety in combining an ethnolinguistics with a study of language in use.

2. In the general area of applied linguistics, folk linguistics surely plays a most important role. When professionals want to have influence, they are, we believe, ill-advised to ignore popular belief, and, as we have discovered in our fieldwork for this book, popular belief about language is both ubiquitous and strong. It is surely as risky for a linguist to try to influence the public as it is for a doctor to try to . . .

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