By Sydney Lamb, Jonathan J. Webster
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Extra info for Language and Reality: Selected Writings of Sydney Lamb
And it doesn't exactly make a good impression. But writing was even more difficult. I knew that my problems with it were so bad, and I hated writing so much, that I avoided taking courses in which papers were required. By careful selection of courses I managed to get through my entire undergraduate career without writing more than a single paper — it was for a course in ethics, finally written during the early morning hours just before the deadline. ) On the other hand, my attention wasn't this erratic all the time.
The "sound laws" don't work and it is indeed true, as Gillieron taught and Malkiel repeatedly demonstrated, that each word has its own history. In the year-long field methods course with Mary Haas, a master field worker, I was immersed in the Malay Peninsula dialect of Thai, along with a couple of superb post-doctoral scholars, S0ren Egerod (later the professor of Asian languages at the University of Copenhagen) and Roy Andrew Miller (later professor of East and South Asian languages at Yale). An especially influential course for me was "Russian Morphology," taught by Francis Whitfield, a man who, like me (as I now understand), combined great strength in understanding things with an inordinate lack of facility in writing.
But I could never do that. So it is these days, for example, in historical linguistics. The in-group says you can't accept any proposal of a genetic relationship among languages unless it has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt; and this just about precludes accepting any proposal of a distant relationship. These are people, I guess, who don't take their umbrellas or rain coats to work when the weatherman says there is a 70 percent chance of rain; it would have to be 100 percent. I defended Swadesh and I now defend Greenberg because to me, perhaps under the influence of my knowledge of physical science, it makes more sense to operate at any time with the most likely working hypothesis, even though that hypothesis may turn out to need revising when further evidence comes in.