Half a thousand academics want Steven Pinker dropped from the list of “distinguished fellows” of the Linguistic Society of America for allegedly minimizing racial and sexist injustices.
Because this is a fight involving linguists, it features some expected elements: intense arguments about imprecise wording and sly intellectual put-downs. Professor Pinker may have inflamed matters when he suggested in response to the letter that its signers lacked stature. “I recognize only one name among the signatories,’’ he tweeted. That, said Byron T. Ahn, a linguistics professor at Princeton replied in a tweet of his own, amounted to “a kind of indirect ad hominem attack.”
(Michael Powell, “How a Famous Harvard Professor Became a Target Over His Tweets,” NYTimes, 7-15-20)
The consensus of testimony in the article is that Professor Pinker’s tenure, stature and good hair will see him through the kerfuffle. But avoid fights with linguists if you can. You may fall prey to “a kind of indirect ad hominem attack” — or worse, called out for imprecise wording.
(c) 2020 JMN