Monday, June 11, 2012

Going away and coming back

I went away for a week and got back today. When you include me checking out to finish my R01 submission, I was kinda gone for 3 weeks. Things carried on as they would have had I stayed there. I probably have micromanagerial tendencies, so I deliberately did not communicate with the lab while I was gone, or at least resisted the urges more than I might otherwise have.

In the 1960's, Noam Chomsky was running a linguistics 'lab' at MIT. His students and post-docs included future heavyweights in the field. His ideas were in the process of changing linguistics, and are still influential today.

In 1966, he went to Berkeley for his sabbatical and stayed for the summer. It was 1966 and Chomsky was becoming more and more interested in leftist politics. Meanwhile, his star pupils, including George Lakoff and Paul Postal, among others, continued his regular twice weekly journal club. At this club, they continued to explore his ideas and apply them to new problems. In a practical sense these guys were interested in staking out their own territory so they could get jobs in academia. They tried to move his ideas beyond syntax to prosody, word structure, even the mind - the structure of concepts. They came up with ideas they were proud of and wanted him to support and publicize.

When Chomsky returned in the fall, he was horrified by these ideas and repudiated them. He rejected all of their ideas. They in turn rejected his rejection, and went on to promulgate their ideas elsewhere. Personally, he had a falling out with his students, who went on to found what could be called an anti-Chomskian school. Chomsky's time away led to the founding of two opposed schools of linguistics that have really defined a large part of how linguistics works as an academic field for the past 50 years.

Basically, this kind of thing is my biggest fear whenever I go away.

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