|SCIENTIFIC METHODS AND
Empiricism is a cornerstone of the scientific method, but it
is not the only way of discovering truth (e.g. does John love
Mary, does God exist, are sunsets beautiful?). It is, however, the
approach that we will use to analyze linguistic phenomena in this
class. For a nice General Conference address that talks about
different "ways of knowing", see the
talk by Dallin H. Oaks from April 2008.
method is defined by:
- Empirical, systematic observation
- Publicly available knowledge
- Dealing with problems that are solvable
and potentially falsifiable
1a. Empirical observation
Gk. empeirikós: experienced/tested
Rational(ism) < Lat. ratio: reason
- Theories should be based on
our observations of the world rather than on intuition, faith,
reasoning, or appeals to authority
Example of non-empirical:
People refused to look through Galileo’s telescope to see Jupiter as
new planet (refused empirical evidence). Francesco Sizi refuted
Galileo by using “reasoning” his reasoning was:
“There are seven windows in the head, two nostrils, two ears, two
eyes and a mouth; so in the heavens there are two favorable stars,
two unpropitious, two luminaries, and Mercury alone undecided and
indifferent. From which and many other similar phenomena Of nature
such as the seven metals, etc., which it were tedious to enumerate,
we gather that the number of planets is necessarily seven....
Besides, the Jews and other ancient nations, as well as modern
Europeans, have adopted the division of the week into seven days,
and have named them from the seven planets: now if we increase the
number of planets, this whole system falls to the ground....
Moreover, the satellites are invisible to the naked eye and
therefore can have no influence on the earth and therefore would be
useless and therefore do not exist.”
Examples of modern day Sizis:
Too many linguistic arguments appeal to Chomsky’s prestige and
authority rather than data.
Chomsky’s refusal to accept what is “observed” in a corpus as
Conference presentation refuting
the Spanish philologist Menendez Pidal
Observation alone is not
enough, it must be systematic. Observing everything you do one day
doesn’t constitute a systematic observation. You need to observe
things that are relevant to the theory and are structured so that
they can either support or refute the theory
Give a scenario where
non-systematic observation could result in the following potentially
Word X was used a lot
more in the 1700s than in the 1800s
People think that
Coloradans speak better than Utahns
Chinese is harder to
learn than Spanish
One of the ten most
common nouns in English is "inflation"
Scientific knowledge is publicly available
Cold fusion: other
labs tried and failed
South Korean cloning
introspection (example of *perform + mass noun: "perform
magic / labor")
If knowledge is not
available publicly it can never be scrutinized, examined, critiqued,
or refuted like public knowledge can. Nor can it be replicated.
Importance of peer reviewed publication-makes it public, subject to
scrutiny. Just because it’s been peer reviewed doesn’t mean it’s
true. It a minimal standard.
You should be wary of anything that hasn’t been studied and
published: diet pills, megavitamins that cure schizophrenia,
depression. Acupuncture was accepted as legitimate only after it was
3. Testable problems / potentially falsifiable
Falsifiability is good,
as strange as that may seem. It’s OK for a theory to be proven wrong. We
get closer to truth.
Science deals with theories that can be tested.
The test must be based on
spatiotemporal evidence-observable (not appeals to authority,
Scientific theory must specify what outcome would support and what
would disprove it.
What is the meaning of life?
inherently good or bad?
Was Monet the greatest 19th century painter?
theory is correct
Japanese is a
prettier language than German
yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia
Lightfoot and language change
Money makes people
Humans have an innate
sense that murder is bad
Monet was the most
prolific painter of the 19th century
The Book of Mormon is
People from Colorado
speak better than people from Utah
Are non-scientific enterprises good?
Yes; poetry, art appreciation,
Scientific Method (as per MS
How could this be carried out for
the following (or in fact could it?):
- Passives occur more in English
than in Spanish
- Floridians speak better than
people from Mississippi
- The vocabulary in Shakespeare
in larger than that of the King James Bible
- Poetry has "prettier" language
than academic textbooks
EMPIRICISM DURING THE PAST 50
1. Syntactic structures (1957) by
Noam Chomsky -- kind of a watershed year
2. Before this, highly empirical
studies (e.g. phonetics of Native American languages, word
frequency, frequency of certain syntactic constructions). In part
because non-native speakers of some of these languages. In part
because of behaviorism.
3. Chomsky changed all that:
- Why worry about getting
10,000,000,000 word corpus? Just ask native speaker.
- Empirical data often non
overly-insightful (Dayton, OH vs New York City)
- (vs behaviorism): Degenerate
data: motherese, competence/performance (i.e. drunk people)
- Analogy of human body: just
study one in detail
- Can a corpus really tell you
why "he shine Dad boots" is bad?
So empirical linguistics really "on
the ropes" late 1950s-late 1970s or into 1980s
4. Resurgence since 1980s or so.
- Introspection has its own
problems (non-testable, non-systematic)
- Computers could finally handle
enough data to make real contribution