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A Note on ‘Orthodox Linguistics’; Language and Linguistics: Reply to Bob Borsely and Deborah Cameron; Reply to Arthur

But even given this and many other preconditions – of
which the careful reading of one anothers’ texts must be
the most important – it may be that there is a limit soon
reached where nothing more can be yielded, and nothing
more defined; and it would be plausible to conjecture that
those very reasons that made the ICA’s event a pleasure
and a commodity are not independent from those that set
the boundaries to rnetaphilosophy. Of the attempt at metaphilosophy, it must be asked whether it is not misguided to
attempt to produce a perspective from which both analytic
and Continental philosophy can be reviewed, and what kind
of will to adjudication might be disguised in it. Pluralism
must also defend itself against the charge of failing to be

However, ‘Philosophie et Pr a tique’ gave some small
but heartening indication that the absence hitherto of
metaphilosophical discussion between French and English
would not necessarily be continued out of professional
self-confinement, and if it is not, it can avoid taking certain forms that stultify it in the process of providing its

During the 20th century there has been a resurgence of
astrology in the West. Popularisation in the media is one
factor here, but there are also now several thousand practising astrologers (full or part time) who distance themselves from ‘pop’ astrology. This ‘serious’ astrology still
follows traditional principles with the addition of several
recent techniques. Astrologers today often use astrology in
the context of counselling, linking it with Jungian or
humanistic psychotherapies. There has also been a great
deal of empirical – usually empiricist – research following
the work of the Gauquelins.

The existence of various types of astrological activity,
coupled with the lack of a clear and agreed definition of
the discipline compared to others, means that it can be put
into a number of diverse categories convenient to various
discourses: ‘scientific phenomenon’; ‘pseudo-science’; ‘model
of the psyche’; ‘entertainment’; ‘system of personality description’; ‘stupefying ideology’; etc. In each case the discourse maintains its own mythical ‘astrology’, each with
many unexamined assumptions. With the lack of clearly formulated alternatives from the world of astrologers, nonastrologers approaching the subject tend to pick upon only
these mythical definitions. Thus the few writings by radical
thinkers, while correct in their critiques of astrology’s’


BoL.. l30rsley

In her contribution to the recent debate on sexist language,
Deborah Cameron makes the quite reasonable point that the
way speech is understood is dependent on context and
hence that sexist interpretations are likely in a sexist culture. However, she embeds this point in a tirade against
prevailing ideas about language, and, in particular, against
mainstream linguistics, or ‘orthodox linguistics’, as she prefers to call it. It would be unfortunate if this were allowed
to pass without comment. In this note, therefore, I will
take up the main points that Cameron appears to be making
and try to set the record straight .

Cameron presents a string of assertions whose precise
:neaning is often far from clear. It seems, however, that
her main claim is that linguists assume a conception of
communication which leads them to a view of language


ideological role in media discourse, paradoxically accept
the discourse of scientism in rejecting all astrology as
‘pseudo-science’ .

A study or practice of astrology brings one to the classic issues of philosophy: free will, causation, time, mind,
knowledge, human subjectivity .•. ; and these have been
focal points in the debates between astrology and rival systems of thought. But astrology today lacks a comprehensive
and developing theoretical side of its own which would help
astrologers think out these issues, defend and define their
practice, and lead to more productive interaction with
other fields.

The Radical Astrology Group
Through our publications, meetings and lectures, we have
tried to introduce recent developments in theory and philosophy, including those of structuralism, post-structuralism,
semiotics, and feminism, to the rather insular world of
astrologers, and provoke discussion on them. We do not
hold any unified position but we share a belief that a critical approach and more awareness of these developments
are needed.

Astrology itself, conceived in such theoretical terms,
has much to say to those in other disciplines, particularly
those studying philosophy or systems of thought in a social
context. Even if one sets aside the question of validity,
astrology is a field where diverse discourses come into play
and can be comparatively observed, both now and at key
points in its history, such as the late 17th century. Much
of modern astrological practice would appear to offer a
direct challenge to notions of empiricism, universal causation, and the distinctions subject/object, science/art.

Our first main project was writing our book: Discussion
Papers: Astrology and Theory. This summarised the relevant
theoretical developments such as semiotics and presented
some new contexts for thinking about astrology. It also
examined the implicit philosophies of the various astrological groups in Britain, and included an- outline of astrological methods for the benefit of non-astrological readers.

We are now reworking the Discussion Papers with a
view to republishing them as two books: one on theory/philosophy; the second on astrology, semiotics and interpretation. In addition we are publishing a book of intervie:vs with astrologers which will have a wider appeal than
the academic content of the others.

We hold regular meetings in London, plus occasional
workshops, and are interested in hearing from anyone with
ideas/feelings on the above topics. To obtain more details
and be added to our mailing list, .~)lease write to Radical
Astrology Group, 17 Granville Road, London SW 18 5SB

which precludes any dependence of meaning on context.

She suggests that linguists assume that communication is a
matter of ‘telementation’, the transfer of ideas from one
mind to another, and that perfect communication is the
norm. This conception of communication leads them to view
language as a fixed code of form-meaning correspondences
and this is incompatible with any dependence of meaning on

Do mainstream linguists in fact hold these views? It
would, I think, be quite hard to show that they subscribe to
the crucial conception of communication for the simple
reason that they say very little about communication. If
one looks at the recent writings of Noam Chomsky, who
remains the dominant figure in mainstream linguistics, one
finds that the only references to communication are where
he takes issue with the idea that communication is the purpose of language and the key to an understanding of its
structure . It may well be that many linguists think that
communication is in part a matter of the transfer of ideas
from one mind to another. (It’s hard to see what’s wrong

with this. After all, isn’t Cameron attempting to transfer
certain ideas from her mind to the minds of her readers?)
On the other hand, it seems unlikely that many linguists
think perfect communication is the norm. The frequency
with which linguists’ ideas are misunderstood provides
rather compelling evidence against such a position. The
fact is, however, that consider a tions about the nature of
communication have played no significant role in the thinking of mainstream linguists. Hence, if their view of language is unsatisfactory, it is not because they subscribe to an
unsatisfactory conception of communication.

What, then, of the crucial view of language? Here,
Cameron is in part right and in part wrong. Mainstream
linguists do believe in a fixed code but this does not preclude dependence of meaning on context. I1ost mainstream
linguists would agree with Chomsky when he remarks that
‘The person who has acquired knowledge of a language has
internalized a system of rules that relate sound and meaning in a particular way’ but goes on to say that the intern~
alized system of rules ‘is only one of the many factors that
determine how an utterance will be used or understood in a
particular situation’ . The internalized system of rules
can be said to embody a fixed code but since these rules
are only one of the factors involved in the ordinary use of
language, there is no implication that context plays no
role. It is quite obvious that meaning is in part dependent
on context. For example, it is the context which determines whether Could you lift that weight? is a question or
a request and whether He’s a fine friend is a literal statement or a piece of sarcasm. Such facts have received little
attention in Chomsky’s own work but they are quite compatible with Chomsky’s ideas and have been seriously studied by other linguists within the mainstream .

It is also clear, however, that there are aspects of
meaning that are independent of context. For example,
whatever the context, John almost missed the train implies
that John caught the train whereas John just missed the
train implies that he did not. Similarly, in any context,
himself is understood as Bill and not as John in John persuaded Bill to wash himself but as John and not as Bill in
John promised Bill to wash himself. Such facts show i-IlL: t
Cameron’s claim that ‘all meaning is in the end contex: i.i’

is untenable unless she is using ‘contextual’ in some sp(“‘,,d
sense of her own.

Facts like these also support the view that a lang i .

is essentially a fixed code. A variety of facts are relev::

here. There are phonetic facts such as the fact that the )
of .Pi! is aspirated, i.e. followed by a short puff of air~
Ivhereas the .E. of spit is not; there are morphological facts
‘:i!Jch as the fact that all but a handful of English nouns
have plurals formed by adding -s or -es; there are syntactic
facts such as the fact that sentences like John believes
himself to be clever are perfectly acceptable whereas sentences like John believes himself is clever are very odd;
but there are semantic facts such as those mentioned
above. In the light of such facts, Cameron’s assertion that
‘Determinacy of either form or of meaning is a myth’ is
rather bizarre.

One might have doubts about the existence of internalized systems of rules if no progress had been made in the
attempt to characterize them. It looks as if Cameron may
be suggesting this when she remarks that ‘linguists, particularly those working on the data of conversation, have
found it impossible ••. to crack the fixed code’. (The reference here to linguists working on the data of conversation
is rather puzzling since the organization of conversation
has been a peripheral concern for mainstream linguists.) If
Cameron is suggesting that no progress has been made, I
would simply say that she is wrong. Anyone who wants to
make such a claim would have to show that there is no
nore insight into language in current approaches than in
the earliest work in generative grammar. It would be rather
difficult to show this. It may be, however, that Cameron is
simply suggesting that linguists have not come up with any
final answers. If so, she is right, but this is of no importr



ance since the same could be said of physicists, biOlogists,
geologists, etc.

Another criticism is embodied in Cameron’s reference
10 ‘langue/parole distinctions, which allow the analyst to
posit an underlying set of correspondences even if people’s
behaviour offers little empirical support for them’ . I
assume she is thinking here of the distinction between the
internalized system of rules and the ordinary use of
language, and suggesting that in taking the former as their
main focus of interest, linguists are giving themselves a
licence to set aside problematic facts, thus shielding their
proposals from falsification. If this is her suggestion, it is
quite unjustified. Linguists oAly set aside particular facts if
there are reasons for thinking that they are a reflection
not of the internalized linguistic rules but of some other
cognitive system. Consequently, their proposals remain responsible to a wide range of facts and are quite frequently

A final feature of Cameron’s discussion is some obscure remarks about ‘authoritarian, prescriptive institutions
that regulate our use and our understanding of language’.

One wonders if she thinks that mainstream linguistics is
such an institution. If so, she would have to explain why
linguists have spent a great deal of time in recent years
discussing the syntactic conditions under which speakers
use contractions like wanna and gonna instead of want to
and going to . Any prescriptivist woud simply say that
one should never use such forms. She in fact cites dictionaries as an example of a prescriptive institution. She observes that they are ruling-class sponsored as if this made
further discussion superfluous. It is perhaps worth noting,
therefore, that ruling-class sponsored institutions can have
their uses. Marx made rather good use of the British
Museum, which is hardly a working-class institution.

Carneron concludes her remarks about prescriptivism with
the assertion that ‘except insofar as languages. are institutionalized, they cannot be said to exist outside their individual users’. She seems to be completely unaware that this
is a proposition that Chomsky would completely agree with

I have now considered the main points that Cameron
seems to be making about mainstream linguistics. I think it
should be clear that her remarks cannot be regarded as a
serious critique. However, as I noted at the outset, the
central point of her article is not unreasonable. It is unfortunate, therefore, that she chose to air her prejudices
about linguistics and not to explore the implications of this
point more fully.


Trevor Pateman
I don’t think Bob Borsley succeeds in his attempt to put
Deborah Cameron in her place. Though I would defend
orthodox or mainstream linguistics against some (not all) of
the ‘criticisms advanced by Cameron and the writers to
whom she refers (notably Roy Harris and V.N. Volosinov), I
do think Borsley’s response is naive in its acceptance of
positions in linguistics which won’t withstand philosophical

In particular, consider his defence of the fixed code
position: the idea that languages are systems of formmeaning correspondences, and his related defence of the
position that there are aspects of meaning that are independent of ·context. He writes in defence of the latter that
‘in any context himself is understood as Bill and not as
John in John persuaded Bill to wash himself’ and in relation
to the former that, ‘There are phonetic facts such as the
fact that the .E. of £l! is aspirated … whereas the .E. of spit
is not.’ Neither claim is true. In some contexts himself may
be understood as referring to John, and in some contexts

the .l? of spit may be aspirated – for example, contexts
where English is being spoken to, or by, non-native speakers with an imperfect command of the language. It is not
(just) an empirical fact that the .l? of spit is (normally) unaspirated. It is not an empirical fact at all; it is a norm..

ative claim about the rules of English, and only in that
normative context do Borsley’s claims hold. The arguments
for this position are exhaustively discussed in Itkonen 1978.

However, what is the normative context of English is
extremely hard to define, and I don’t for example accept
Itkonen’s account (see Pateman 1983; Itkonen 1984 is a response). And in relation to the Cameron-Borsley exchange,
Cameron is clearly right to take the view that what empirically happens in speech is not exhaustively defined or constituted by the (normative) rules of a (public) language.

There is clearly space for non-normative but regular idiosyncrasy, for negotiation about meanings, and for misunderstanding. What goes on in actual communication is clearly
more than the deployment in speech production and understanding of the rules of a public language. How it is possible for this more to go on is clearly a question to which
the post-Fregean and post-Saussurean traditions have not
addressed themselves, since they have in effect denied that
very possibility. Frege, for example, is explicit that identity of meanings (senses) is a necessary condition of . the
possibility of communication between people. The doubts
about this Fregean position expressed in different ways by
Bakhtin (who claimed to have written Volosinov’s book),
Wittgenstein and ethnomethodologists of the ad hoc-ing
persuasion are not addressed by those who disting~ish sense
and force, meaning and significance, sentence meaning and
utterance meaning, semantics and pragmatics. Those distinctions are, in my view, indispensable and invaluable (see
Pateman 1981), but they do not touch the rather deeper
question about the flux of speech ~hich I believe Cameron

(and Harris) are addressing and which Borsley hasn’t appreciated.

Where I disagree with Cameron is in her dismissal of
the ‘pointless abstractions of structural linguistics’, a dismissal she motivates by reference to the critiques of Volosinov and Kristeva. Elsewhere I have criticised Volosinov’s
hopelessly’ empiricist notion of abstraction and of science
(see Pateman 1982). Here the point to make is that precisely insofar as actual speech is governed by or constituted in
either normative systems of public rules (Saussure’s langue)
or a rule-structured mental-representation (Chomsky’s competence), then we do need cl science of those virtual or
abstract structures in which speech is (partially) constituted. What we must not do is confuse this part for the
whole, nor assume that the role it plays is everywhere the
same. For example, it is true that much of my speech is
recoverable as deployment of the normative public system
of standard English. But it is not true that much of everyone’s spech is recoverable as deployment .of some normative
j)ublic system: this is not the case, for example, for speakers of pidgin or for young creoles· (see Bickerton 1981).

On the question of sexist language, Whorfianism has
little going for it since the work of Eleanor Rosch (see
Johnson-Laird and Wason 1977, Part VI), and its Whorfianism is. a serious defect of Dale Spender’s Man-Made
Language. In this I agree with Cameron. I disagree with her
over the question of context-independent meanings. From
the fact that next-door neighbour can be used to mean
male next-door neighbour it does not follow that next door
neighbour is On English … ) either marked (+ male) or does
not have a context-independent meaning. If this did follow
all those good feminist trip-ups like: ‘I saw my heart
specialist yesterday’ – ‘What did he say?’ – ‘She, actually’,
or ‘The doctor did not try to help the nurse because he
needed the practice’ would be impossible.


the conventional definitions in treatises on political economy, which are based on iindispensability’, ‘usefulness’, the ‘material’ character of
labour or its role in personal and productive
consumption, are correct…. We only hold that
Marx’s view is different from these conventional
views…. We may in fact regret that marx chose
the term ‘productive’ for his treatment of the
differences between labour hired by capital in
the phase of production and labour hired by
capital in the phase of circulation. The term
‘productive’ had a different meaning in economic science. (Perhaps a more suitable term
would have been ‘production labour’.).

Chr is Arthur

Dear Radical Philosophy,
Just one word about Chris Arthur’s interesting piece (‘Nove
and Frankel on unproductive labour’ – Spring 1985) in which
he asks for a reference for my claim that Rubin disagrees
with Marx on this question. I agree that ‘the best review
of Marx’s. discussion is by I. I. Rubin’. Yes, Rubin does indeed ‘stoutly defend the cogency of Marx’s distinction
against Bazarov and Bogdanov’, but he ends his chapter as
follows in the Russian edition I have before me: ‘To avoid
misunderstandings we must stress that our account of productive labour in Marx has as its sole object the reproduction of the exact meaning of Marx’s teaching…. We do not
say that Marx’s distinction, abstracting from the content of
labour expended, is better than that customarily used, only
that it is different…. In particular, we do not agree with
Marx that labour hired by capital in the sphere of circulation does not create value and sur Ius value’ (Ocherko po
teorii stoimosti Marksa, Moscow Petrograd, 1923, p. 125.

My translation, my emphasis).

Yours sincerely,
Alec Nove

I was working with a translation from the third edition of
1928. Here Rubin is much more circumspect. It would be
interesting to know if he changed his mind as a result of
discussion or if he felt it more politic to tone down his
remarks. At all events, the statement underlined by Nove
does not appear; instead we get the following:

‘We do not ask whether or not Marx’s definition
of productive labour based on the analysis of
the social form of labour is correct, or whether

Dear Radical Philosophy,
I seem to have missed the closing date for entries to your
first competition, so here is an idea for your next competition:

Which philosophy journal claims to ‘nearly
return to schedule’ in an issue dated (like the
previous issue) Summer 1984, which was available (in my part of the world anyway) only in
February 1985 and which has a competition
closing date of 5 January 1985?

Yours sincerely, Andrew Belsey
PS – I now see that the back of the issue referred to above
is dated Spring 1984. Are you making some radical point
about time?


As is conventional every 38th issue we refer to the
Australian summer. Apologies for any confusion caused.

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