Friday, February 02, 2007

Linguistics at SIUC

With the chair and the last tenured professor almost gone and not to be replaced, at least not in the near future, the war of attrition against the Department of Lingusitics at SIUC seems almost over. It would be good to say that Linguistics has a chance of regaining its former strength, but it would be hard to imagine how, at this point, without a change of heart in certain high postions. Yet, for a university struggling to find a toehold in the new world, revive an image tarnished by past Halloween incidents and other problems, it is shortsighted to dissemble Linguistics, whether it is because of a shortage of undergraduate majors, or for any other reason.

The study of human language is at the heart of human perception of the world- the base of all the social sciences, the medium with which we understand and discuss the world around us, the essence of what makes us human, and the key to understanding the cultural diversity within our own species. In a rapidly changing world, in which new technology redefines communication, perception, and human relationships, not to mention the economy, the university and the government, nothing could be more crucial than maintaining and advancing our understanding of how humans create, use and change languages in all our various media. One doesn't have to look far to realize that chat, virtual reality, and online networking have redefined language as we know it, and that an understanding of human adaptation to environment will be crucial to our survival in years to come. I would argue that Linguistics (as opposed to Classics? History? Philosophy?) is the keystone around which a university should be based- the one subject that should not have to rely on "undergraduate majors" for its survival- and that should be embraced and supported at all costs.

I strongly encourage the SIUC administration, which has the ability and the resources to position itself for the realization of its own vision, whatever that may be, to recognize the value of LInguistics, and then begin to restore a department that could in turn provide the leadership, the vision, and the impetus that moves SIUC into a new role for a new generation. Changes are happening quickly in the world, and a university can't go forward on recycled vision, or even a classic formula, that may have put another university in the "top 75." We are unique, with our forests, lakes, rivers, and a long straight highway to Chicago, and we have to make our own way, capitalizing on what we can offer to the state and the world. I don't see how this could be easier, smoother or even possible if Linguistics is dismantled, or tucked into another department; even if Linguistics is taken up elsewhere in the state, as it inevitably will be, it won't be the same, or as good, as it could be done here. Get organized, Illinois- and take a look at the future. Then, build the new department around what could make us great. Thank you.

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