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The Role of Theory in Language Description

International Symposium #105

October 31 - November 8, 1987
The Jamaica Inn, Ocho Rios, Jamaica

PUBLICATION:    The Role of Theory in Language Description (William A. Foley, Ed.), Trends in Linguistics:  Studies and Monographs 69.  Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, 1993.


bookcoverMohamed Abdulaziz (University of Nairobi, Kenya)
Mark Baker (McGill University, Canada)
Alton Becker (University of Michigan, USA)
Geoffrey Benjamin (National University of Singapore)
Joan Bresnan (Stanford University, USA)
Carolyn Coleman (Stanford University, USA)
Anthony Diller (Australian National University)
Nicholas Evans (University of Melbourne, Australia)
William Foley, organizer (Australian National University)
John Gumperz (University of California, Berkeley, USA)
Jane Hill (University of Arizona, USA)
Christian Lehmann (University of Bielefeld, West Germany)
Catherine O'Connor (University of California, Berkeley, USA)
Andrew Pawley (University of Auckland, New Zealand)
Doris Payne (University of Oregon, USA)
Sydel Silverman (Wenner-Gren Foundation, USA)
Michael Silverstein (University of Chicago, USA)


The conference looked critically at the state of linguistics today, specifically the role that modem linguistic theory can or should play in informing the descriptions of the indigenous languages spoken in tribal and traditional communities. The main questions addressed were: what is the optional degree of abstraction from ongoing spoken language in sociocultural contexts, for the purposes of language de­scription? how can theoretical work that emphasizes formal rigor be reconciled with that which focuses on pragmatic descriptions of social interactions? how can the descriptive basis of linguistic theorizing be enlarged with data drawn from the indigenous languages of the local communities of the world, in contrast to the current emphasis on the familiar languages of western Europe? how can the gap between linguistics and anthropology be bridged? Participants were selected to represent divergent academic spe­cializations and theoretical persuasions.