American Linguist Quotes
Electronic brains may help us to use our heads but will not excuse us from that duty, and as to our hearts-cardiograms cannot diagnose what may be most ill about them, or confirm what may be best. The faithful woman and the versatile brave man, the wakeful intelligence open to inspiration or grace-these are still exemplary for our kind, as they always were and always will be.
If only there were a lexicographer of Liang Shih-ch'iu's ability who also had the perspicuity to arrange his dictionary by sound rather than radical! … No wonder most of us are so sour and gray by the time we reach fifty! The amount of time consumed and the spirit expended in this sort of meaningless, not to mention destructive, type of activity is beyond calculation.
As a scientist, objectivity is one of my most deeply held values. If we could just try harder, I once thought, surely we could each see the world as others see it and learn to respect one another's views more readily. But I learned from the Pirahas, our expectations, our culture, and our experiences can render even perceptions of the environment nearly incommensurable cross-culturally.
The job of the linguist, like that of the biologist or the botanist, is not to tell us how nature should behave, or what its creations should look like, but to describe those creations in all their messy glory and try to figure out what they can teach us about life, the world, and, especially in the case of linguistics, the workings of the human mind.
William Carlos Williams, late in his long life, had a dream: He saw an enormous spiral staircase in empty space, and his father slowly descending toward him. When he reached the bottom, his father walked over, looked him in the eye and said: You know those poems you're writing? They're no good.