Recent Developments in Linguistics – And in the UW Department of Linguistics


November 29, 2004


Fritz Newmeyer


University of Washington


The field of linguistics has seen a remarkable broadening of interests on the part of grammatical theorists in recent years. Not long ago, grammarians confined themselves purely to constructing rules and principles governing the surface distribution of forms. Now, most pay attention to meaning, discourse, variation both between and within speech communities, and to stochastic processes. The current debate in the field is not over WHETHER grammarians should take account of these phenomena, but HOW they should do so. One side takes a ‘modular’ approach, postulating the interaction of purely formal grammatical principles with principles from other domains. The other side takes a more ‘holistic’ position, not distinguishing sharp boundaries between grammar and other human faculties involved in language.

The UW Department of Linguistics has kept pace with the changes in the field. A group once composed exclusively of syntacticians and phonologists now includes two phoneticians, a sociolinguist, a language acquisition specialist, and a computational linguist. There are plans to hire two more computational linguists for the 2005-2006 academic year. And the UW Linguistics faculty take different positions on the question of modularity, which has led to spirited exchanges within the Department.

Fritz Newmeyer
Acting Chair of the Department of Linguistics, University of Washington