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Shaping the Future of Language Studies - By John Benton


View Full Cover Shaping the Future of Language Studies
John Benton
Axial Publishing, 2008
CA$30.00, 175pp.
978-0-9780945-1-5
to order info@axialpublishing.com or Phone 604-215-0122



Reviews of Shaping the Future of Language Studies. By John Benton(2008)

Book Review by Robert Henman; DLS, CTC, BA, MA

Sessional Lecturer in Family Studies, Philosophy & Ethics
Mount St. Vincent University,
Halifax, NS. Canada

John Benton’s very timely study reaches out to the community of students and professionals presently engaged in the broad field of language studies, with a fresh, practical and progressive strategy. The strategy “anticipates a future transformation of language instruction from junior kindergarten to advanced post-secondary levels of education, and ultimately, a lifting of education in the Humanities toward richer research and more adequate communication.” (Preface)

Benton draws attention to a much-needed focal shift in grammatology “on the basis of empirical observation, rather than by speculation.” (p. 1) Benton draws on a series of often neglected achievements in luminous self-attention by Aristotle [Metaphysics], Thomas Aquinas [Summa Theologiae] and Bernard Lonergan [CWL, 1992]. He works steadily toward drawing attention to data that reveals a recurring pattern in the language user revolving around the symbol ‘?’. One can then begin to get a hold of the universal dynamics of human wonder, known in language studies as the elusive linguistic universals. -- “the data and meaning of which is found in human consciousness and expressed in all human language, regardless of time and place.” (p. 1)

“It is this mood of self-attention to the data, meaning and implications of human wonder” (p. 3), presented in conjunction with a rich panorama of linguistic specimens and performance in Chapters 1 to 6, that allows Benton to clear the way for “a precise classification of attitudes and achievements that are necessary and sufficient with which, first, to identify generic categories of language” (p. 3), secondly, “to ground generic linguistic performance in the dominant branches of the world’s languages” (p. 4), and thirdly, in Chapter 7, “to draw attention to the absence of curiosity about the data and meaning of wonder wrought by the dominant cultural heritage” (p. 4) in which the broad field of language studies presently finds itself.

Then, in Chapter 8, Benton builds a solid case with which to demonstrate how this focal shift in grammatology would both ground, and eventually bear fruit in, the restructuring of language studies with a foundational principle of integration called functional specialization [Lonergan, 1972]. Functional specialization relates sub-fields of language on the basis of a division of labour, consisting of eight distinct but functionally-related tasks that yield “cumulative and progressive results” [CWL, 1990].

In Chapter 9, he assembles evidence from the field with which to suggest that even though an explicit foundational principle of integration is absent in literary and linguistic studies, “there currently exists a spontaneous struggle for a structure of reflection that vaguely anticipates” (p. 4) that new foundation, the full fruit of which will be a self-luminous implementation of functional specialization. [For literary studies, see Welleck and Warren, 1956; and for linguistic studies, see Greenberg, 1978 and Rutherford, 1987.]

Benton follows through with his aim to identify two fundamental components in language studies. By cultivating a level of trust between himself and the reader on the basis that a self-luminous implementation of functional specialization is “in stark contrast to present-day confusion” (p. 6) and “fragmentation” (p. 116) in language studies, one cannot help but feel optimistic that this well-grounded strategy will inevitably prevail in the next century and beyond.

 

Reviewed by Terrance J. Quinn

Professor and Chair, in the Department of Mathematical Sciences,
Middle Tennessee State University


One of the purposes of Benton’s book is to seek “a principle of integration in the broad field of language studies” (p. 1). Now, mathematics is considered to be the “language of science”. In addition to extensive standard literature in the philosophy of mathematics and mathematics education, a cursory internet search produces over 15 million references to this usage. For completeness, it is important, therefore, to include a review Benton’s work in connection with the language of mathematics. The review is structured as follows: The first part begins with comments regarding mathematics, but goes on to indicate the interdisciplinary nature of the main issues. The second part of the review looks to how Benton's book fits into this context.

In mathematics, we find a natural division of studies into past oriented and future oriented work. See, for example, Reflections on the Future of Mathematics [Browder, 2002]. Mathematics education and language studies also have their own histories (e.g. [Klein, 2003]) and futures, as distinct areas of enquiry and as loci of influence on progress within the mathematics community. Progress in mathematics, mathematics education and mathematics language studies intertwine, and reveal at least three root questions: (1) What is the nature of mathematical understanding? (2) What is the nature of mathematical decision? (3) What is a way for the community to collaborate in order to effectively promote community progress? [See Insight, Lonergan, 1992. Note especially Sec. VII.8.6 Cosmopolis; and that the problem of collaboration appears throughout Ch. XX.]

The distinction between past oriented and future oriented studies may seem facile. However, each of these broad orientations evidently requires specialized types of expertise (and ignoring these differences can diffuse the effectiveness of a work). In fact, within the literature of mathematical sciences, what is being revealed not only are significant differences between results of past and future orientations but, more specifically, a pattern of eight “groupings” of types of work -- four for the past orientation and four for the future orientation. Accumulating evidence shows that this eight-fold division of labour pertains to other areas of enquiry as well. Originally discovered for theology, Lonergan also points to this broader significance [Lonergan, Method in Theology, 1990 (1973, 1st .ed), p. 364]. Lonergan named the eight foci of collaboration as follows: (past oriented) research, interpretation, history, dialectics; and (future oriented) foundations, policies, systematics and communications. In law, see [Anderson, 1996]; in environmental science, Arne Naess [(1912 – 2009), “Father of the Deep Ecology Movement”] recognized a lack of coherence in the movement. He went on to identify four collaborative areas that correspond roughly to the four forward-reaching tasks named above, namely, foundations, policies, systematics and communications [Naess, 1998]; in mathematics, see [Quinn, 2003], a preliminary report describing emergence of the specialties in mathematics.

More work is needed. And while the eight-fold pattern is incipient across disciplines, functional specialist collaboration as such will be an achievement for the future -- requiring differentiations of consciousness still remote from present academic practise. Note that (i) functional collaboration provides a solution to question (3) (and therefore an identification of cosmopolis); and (ii) that grounding for the eight-fold division can be appreciated through (prolonged) reflection following on questions (1) and (2). However, because main elements of the division evidently are spontaneously already present in academic disciplines, as a first step toward promoting functional collaboration, we may advert to the pattern and begin by way of approximation.

Benton’s book reaches similar conclusions. Within the context of language studies, through numerous examples and extensive citations to primary sources, the first six chapters invite the reader toward discovery and verification of core language universals. The seventh chapter is a “dialectical analysis” (p. 80), where the results expressed in the book are compared with other representative results from the discipline. Chapter 8 is on “methodological restructuring” (p. 99), namely, functional collaboration. In Section 8.1, Benton reveals the basis of his approach – “generalized empirical method”. To avoid possible confusion in terminology, note that the name “generalized empirical method” first appeared in Insight [Lonergan, 96 – 1992 (72 - 1958)]. For pedagogical reasons, Lonergan drew attention to a needed feature of adequate empirical method, namely, that the data of consciousness is relevant: “We have followed the common view that empirical science is concerned with sensibly verifiable laws and expectations. It if is true that essentially the same method could be applied to the data of consciousness, then respect for ordinary usage would require that a method, which only in its essentials is the same, be named a generalized empirical method.” But of course, mathematicians don’t just think, they think about something. And the same is true certainly for thinkers in other disciplines. The Insight reference to “generalized empirical method” was therefore not a definition, for a definition of a method needs to correlate all key elements involved. Of course, Lonergan himself successfully practised adequate empirical method throughout all of Insight. But, based on known documents, a definition of the method he employed was not expressed until 1974: “Generalized empirical method operates on a combination of both the data of sense and the data of consciousness: it does not treat of objects without taking into account the corresponding operations of the subject; it does not treat of the subject's operations without taking into account the corresponding objects." [Lonergan, 1985 (Lecture, 1974), p. 141] It is this thematized “generalized empirical method” from 1974 that Benton refers to in Section 8.1. Section 8.2 outlines the basic re-structuring, and describes “the correspondence between operations of the human subject and its intended objects in each phase” (of functional specialization) (pp. 105-106). Chapter 9 provides evidence from the field that the eight functionally related patterns of operations already are emergent in language studies.

Benton succeeds admirably in his stated purpose (p. 1). While the “ultimate drive of (the) study has been directed toward a practical and progressive strategy for the Humanities” (p. 136), the results in his book are in fact quite reaching, and in particular are verifiable within the language of mathematics. The book is well written and readable, although the reader should be cautioned: Just as when reading a mathematics book, in order to keep up with the author, one definitely needs to “do the exercises”. In this case, that will best include following up on targeted passages from, for example, Aristotle, Aquinas and Lonergan. Benton’s book points to “principles of integration” (p. 1), both by the existence of verifiable core language universals, as well as methodological structures that seem to be common to all disciplines. This book is an excellent signpost toward a new phase in language studies that will normatively require a third stage [Lonergan, Method, 1990, Section 3.10] control of meaning. It will be important for scholars and students in the field to explore the directions indicated. In that sense, it is also accurate to say that Benton’s book lives up to its title, for it reveals an emergent and needed “shaping (of) the future of language studies”, in mathematics, as well as other disciplines.

Terrance J. Quinn is Professor and Chair, in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, Middle Tennessee State University. His e-mail address is tquinn@mtsu.edu

References

Anderson, B., Discovery in Legal Decision-Making, Volume 24, The Law and Philosophy Series, Kluwer Academic Publishers, London, 1996.

Browder, Felix, Reflections on the Future of Mathematics, Notices of the American Mathematical Society, June/July 2002, 658 – 662.

Klein, D., A Brief History of American K-12 Mathematics Education in the 20th Century, In: Mathematical Cognition: A Volume in Current Perspectives on Cognition, Learning, and Instruction. Information Age Publishing, Inc., Mass., 2003, 175- 225.

Lonergan, B., Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, (Eds. F. E. Crowe and R.M. Doran), University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1992. (Original publication: Longman, Green & Co., London, 1958)

Lonergan, B., Method in Theology (2nd. ed.), University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1990. (Reprint of Method in Theology, 2nd ed., Darton Longman & Todd Ltd., London, 1973, 1975)

Lonergan, B., A Third Collection, (Ed. F. E. Crowe), Paulist Press, NY, 1985, p. 141.

Naess, A. (1912 - 2009), Deep Ecology and Ultimate Premises, The Ecologist, 18, 1998, 128-131.

Quinn, Terrance, Reflections on Progress in Mathematics, J. Macrodynamic Analysis, Vol. 3, 2003, 97 – 116. (http://www.mun.ca/jmda/vol3/quinn.pdf)

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