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Evidence, Experiment and Argument in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language

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Edited By Martin Hinton

This volume is concerned with issues in experimental philosophy and experimental linguistics. Examining experiments in language from a variety of perspectives, it asks what form they should take and what should count as evidence. There is particular focus on the status of linguistic intuitions and the use of language corpora. A number of papers address issues of methodology in experimental work, while other contributions examine the use of thought experiments and what the hypothetical can tell us about the actual. The aim of this collection is to bring together the work of linguists and philosophers in order that they may learn from one another, and to help both groups understand how the use of experimental methods can affect the arguments they employ and the claims they make.
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Martin Hinton - Lies, Damned Lies and Linguistic Intuitions

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Martin Hinton

University of Łódź

Lies, Damned Lies, and Linguistic Intuitions

1. Introduction

The title of this chapter is not intended to suggest that linguists and philosophers are liars, or that intuitions are necessarily false. Rather it is intended to draw a parallel between the use of linguistic intuitions and the way in which statistics are often bandied about without any knowledge of what they really represent or whence they have come. The original quotation is unreliably attributed to Disreali, which rather suits the case: an unsubstantiated quotation about the questionable use of unreliable data. Since linguists often appeal to their own sense of whether a sentence is acceptable in a particular language or not, and are happy to continue to do so even when in conflict with other competent speakers, there may be a suspicion that intuitions can be made evidence for any position whatsoever, just as statistics may be manipulated to serve any cause. Also, something intuitions share with statistical claims, especially when such claims are made informally, is that they appear to have the nature of absolute evidence and are largely unchallengable: it is very difficult to argue against an intuition or a percentage, other than to refuse to accept it for reasons unspecified.

Both in philosophy and linguistics, the concept of ‘intuition’ and its methodological role in the practice of the field are extremely controversial topics. This paper will engage only very briefly...

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