What Kind of Science is Linguistics?

In Martin Neef & Christina Behme (eds.), Essays on Linguistic Realism. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 7-20 (2018)
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I argue that what determines whether a science is ‘formal’ or ‘empirical’ is not the ontological status of its objects of study, but, rather, its methodology. Since all sciences aim at generalizations, and generalizations concern types, if types are abstract (non-spatiotemporal) objects, then all sciences are concerned to discover the nature of certain abstract objects. What distinguishes empirical from formal sciences is how they study such things. If the types of a science have observable instances (‘tokens’), then the nature of the types may be determined empirically. If they types have either abstract tokens, or no tokens at all, their nature must be determined by non-empirical methods involving intuition, reasoning and proof. I conclude that the status of (theoretical) linguistics depends on the methodologies of syntax, semantics, phonology, morphology and orthography (and any other subdiscipline that is concerned with the study of the structure of language).

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David Pitt
California State University, Los Angeles


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