Hey everyone, I've got a question for a paper due in soon and I would appreciate some input as I'm drawing a blank at the moment.

Is Modern Linguistics scientific or not? Take into account its general approach/ philosophy? How about the way actual analysis is carried out? Is it scientific with respect to certain things, but not others?

Any input or ideas would be greatly appreciated.
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That's a good question for a paper because there will be plenty to say.
Are you required to take a single view and defend it?
Or are you required to give the pros and cons of each view?

In any case, I would argue that modern linguistics is a 'soft' science like the social sciences, physics being the 'hardest' of the sciences. Linguists believe they are being scientific when they enforce the idea that no value judgments are to be made about any use of any language. Language is merely a natural phenomenon in this view. You observe language usage the same way as a biologist might observe animal behavior, for example. And then you invent theories which are supposed to have predictive powers, just like the theories of the harder sciences do. This is where it gets shaky, in my opinion. One wonders at times whether the tail is wagging the dog.

Hello Capt. P.

You may be interested in this extract by Karl Popper. More may be found at: http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/popper_falsification.html

(Science as Falsification)

1. It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory — if we look for confirmations.

2. Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions; that is to say, if, unenlightened by the theory in question, we should have expected an event which was incompatible with the theory — an event which would have refuted the theory.

3. Every "good" scientific theory is a prohibition: it forbids certain things to happen. The more a theory forbids, the better it is.

4. A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific. Irrefutability is not a virtue of a theory (as people often think) but a vice.

5. Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute it. Testability is falsifiability; but there are degrees of testability: some theories are more testable, more exposed to refutation, than others; they take, as it were, greater risks.

6. Confirming evidence should not count except when it is the result of a genuine test of the theory; and this means that it can be presented as a serious but unsuccessful attempt to falsify the theory. (I now speak in such cases of "corroborating evidence.")

7. Some genuinely testable theories, when found to be false, are still upheld by their admirers — for example by introducing ad hoc some auxiliary assumption, or by reinterpreting the theory ad hoc in such a way that it escapes refutation. Such a procedure is always possible, but it rescues the theory from refutation only at the price of destroying, or at least lowering, its scientific status. (I later described such a rescuing operation as a "conventionalist twist" or a "conventionalist stratagem.")

One can sum up all this by saying that the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.

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To MrPedantic. I cannot agree more. Who are you...? Are you a philosopher..? I'm always telling myself: I'm constructing my theory as rigid as possible in order to be easily refuted. I will be glad if it will lead to some development. So... I repeat: I cannot agree more with you.

To captainproton. Hi! I'm not a linguist, but a "would be" linguist, so to speak. And I have no answer to your question, to my deep regret. So... good luck! [*]
Hello Roro

I'm sorry to say I didn't devise the contents of my post myself – they're the words of Karl Popper!

I like this thought of yours: "I'm constructing my theory as rigid as possible in order to be easily refuted".

I wholeheartedly agree with that principle.

The trouble is though, linguistic issues are a nightmare to test.

Especially issues in Applied Linguistics.

The academics go ahead and draw big silly conclusions from their pathetic tests in a few a-typical classrooms though.
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Hello, woodcutter. Nice to meet you. I agree with you. Without some universal metalanguage, such as in physics or mathematics, linguists will not be able to even communicate with each other.

I really love linguistics, though.... I'm grumbling here a little bit....

 Tell me, ye learned, shall we for ever be adding so much to the bulk -- so little to the stock ?
 Shall we for ever make new books, as apothecaries make new mixtures, by pouring only out of one vessel into another ? (Tristram Shandy, vol.5. chap.1)

I'm not averse to linguistics. It puzzles me though why its practitioners want to call it a 'science'. It involves collecting and analysing data; but so does a sales & marketing breakdown.

Linguistics seems to me more like a branch of rhetoric, in the medieval sense.

Good to see Tristram here.

Hmmmm. The town crier used to deal with linguistic issues?

In my view, science is when you make a prediction, you test it, and if you are right you make a theory, which ought to enable more correct predictions. (ie there must be a chance for it to be wrong) That's it. (I've never known why the world needed KP for that insight).

So, there is science in linguistics. Some things though, are simply beyond testing. For example - is heavy grammatical explanation a classroom negative?

Too many things will vary and have influence on the result of such tests on each occasion.
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