Re: THEORY: no more URs! [was: Re: Optimum number of symbols]
|From:||And Rosta <a-rosta@...>|
|Date:||Friday, June 28, 2002, 17:17|
> At 12:26 PM +0100 05/25/02, Raymond Brown wrote:
> >At 10:42 am -0600 24/5/02, Dirk Elzinga wrote:
> >>I am very sympathetic to this idea (no URs); I tried doing something
> >>like this in grad school, but I was basically "laughed off the stage"
> >>and didn't have the courage to pursue it then.
> >A pity - how foolish of your grad school.
> Let me clarify. It wasn't my graduate program, but rather a
> conference I attended in which I presented an analysis of Fula
> consonant mutation which made use of the idea that there is no UR. I
> wasn't "laughed off the stage" so much as greeted with stony silence.
> And then Janet Pierrehumbert asked a very pointed question to which I
> couldn't provide a suitably snappy comeback, adding to my
> humiliation. (I later thought of a really good answer to her
> question, but I never saw her again. It seems to me that conference
> presentations are judged as much by the ability of the presenter to
> provide instant and insightful analysis of hypothetical situations
> posed by the questioner as by a reasoned, carefully thought out
> presentation. I don't think well on my feet, so I come off looking
> pretty dim when I present.)
In my experience, conferences come in three types.
1. The generalist conference, which follows exactly the pattern you
describe: stony silence, with the embarrassment punctuated by a
question to which the speaker has no ready waffle-free answer. But
if the speaker has cachet, then there is great competition as
members of the audience vie to ask a question that strikes the
optimum balance between sycophancy and cleverness.
2. The club/junket conference (for academics well-established in
their profession). The paper is either bafflingly impenetrable or embarrassingly
trite. Either way, the questions are prefaced by
profuse congratulations and followed by a question of astonishing
banality. The giver of the bafflingly impenetrable paper answers
graciously, pretending the question is worthwhile. The giver of
the embarrasingly trite paper, implicitly accepting the
congratulations, gives a profuse, magisterial and trite answer.
2. The specialist conference. The people who like asking questions
make a few points obvious to all participants. Then someone asks
an intersting question, someone other than the speaker buts in
to answer it, and the session ends with several members of the
audience standing engaged in discussion with other, sometimes
without the participation of the speaker.
> My teachers in my grad program were generally supportive of the
> UR-less idea, but the intellectual climate of the time was definitely
> against the move (at least in the circles they moved in; come to find
> out later, there were plenty of people who took the idea seriously --
> including the institution I'm at now), so they advised me to assume a
> more traditional stance in my work in order to make me more
> marketable. It also didn't really play a role in what I was doing in
> a significant way, so to include the UR-less idea could have been
> seen as needlessly provocative.
Given the politics of job-getting, your advisors were probably right.
But I don't really understand why people would want to undergo the
agonies of doing a doctorate, getting a position, getting tenure,
and making a name for themselves if they have to toe the doctrinal
line to do so. To my delight, I recently discovered that in Britain,
plumbers are earning more than professors, and are working fewer
hours in the year to do so. Henceforth I think I should advise my
students to aim for a career in plumbing. (BTW, in Britain only
the highest paid university lecturers are professors. Professors
are paid better than bricklayers, but bricklayers are paid better
than lecturers, as befits their respective contributions to the
fabric of our society.)