Historical Perspectives On Contemporary Issues

Judith Kaplan — Linguistics: Reconstructing the Discipline through Universals Research

In this episode of Perspectives, we speak with Judith Kaplan, Consortium fellow and National Science Foundation scholar.

Judy introduces us to her project developing a comprehensive history of modern linguistics while simultaneously exploring the ways in which scientific disciplines are shaped and negotiated over time. It will provide an alternative to the accounts authored by practitioner-historians through a novel bibliometric methodology. Proceeding from the coincidence of two research programs in language universals during the 1960s—one typological (e.g. Greenberg, 1963) and the other formal (e.g. Chomsky, 1965)—the project seeks to reconstruct the discipline through patterns of citation, collaboration, and subsequent engagement. This analysis will focus on a critical reading of published sources, archival materials pertaining to the Stanford University Language Universals Project, and the papers of Noam Chomsky at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From these collections and a pair of conferences exemplifying the two approaches (Dobbs Ferry, 1961 and UT-Austin, 1967), it expands outward to explore research schools from the Port Royal Grammarians of the seventeenth century to the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology circa the early 2000s. This inclusivity serves to highlight the tension at the heart of linguistics, namely, the fact that the discipline simultaneously recognizes species-wide characteristics and constraints on human language while simultaneously grappling with language diversity and change over time. The project is informed by recent work in science and technology studies concerned with the nature and historicity of data; research praxis; scientific communication; and meta-disciplinary boundaries between the sciences of nature and culture. As a result, the proposed research is positioned to shed light on the processes by which the credibility, transmission, and broader social relevance of modern disciplinary knowledge has been figured over time.



Closed-captioning available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/tSso2HEBIZc


To cite this podcast, please use footnote: Judith Kaplan interview, Perspectives, Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, September 29, 2022, https://www.chstm.org/video/137

Insights from the Collections
The Consortium's collections provide many opportunities to learn more about the history of linguistics. See the Consortium search hub to find more.
Materials related to this topic include
Franz Boas Personal and Professional papers, American Philosophical Society
Mary Rosamond Haas papers, American Philosophical Society
Council for Research in the Social Sciences records, 1922-1970, Columbia University
Department of Anthropology Records, 1930-1985, Columbia University
Commonwealth Fund records, Harkness Fellowships, Rockefellar Archive Center
Daniel Garrison Brinton papers, University of Pennsylvania
 Join a related Working Group’s monthly discussion
History of Anthropology