Crystal D. Linguistics. Second ed.
Penguin Book, 1990. – pp. 256-267.
The main merit of research over the past few years is that people now have a much clearer idea as to what the important questions of linguistic theory are: over the next few years, we may go some way towards solving some of them. It should be clear from this attitude, then, that those who clamour for applications of linguistics - myself included - are not likely to be satisfied for a while. Too much of the subject is in an unformulated state to be able to be applied in any useful way to the study of some other field - though, as we shall see, some restricted areas have come to be fairly well investigated and introduced. The absence of any complete grammar of English (which has been the most analysed of all languages) is one of the most obvious limitations of the applicability of linguistics at the present time. The presence of so much fundamental theoretical disagreement, which has to be gone into before one can adopt a particular 'applied' line, is another. However, it would be wrong to criticize linguistics for failing to come up to expectations, or for being too negative (in its criticisms of earlier work), or for being too complicated and abstract - such criticisms are not uncommon. The negative flavour of early linguistics was, as we have seen, an essential preliminary to the development of a more constructive and open-minded state of mind on the part of language scholars. Understanding the weaknesses of early accounts of language helped them to reach an understanding of the fact that it was complex, and to appreciate the nature and extent of its complexity. It was this awareness which promoted the careful analysis of data and the development of the necessary (albeit abstract) distinctions of phonetics, morphology, and the other levels. It is in fact this very complexity which is the reason why linguistics has not developed further than it has. It would be perfectly possible for any competent linguist to sit down and write a linguistic grammar of English, in the light of available knowledge, for the purpose of language teaching; but it is unlikely that it would be a wholly satisfying job. There is still too much dispute about the theoretical principles on which such a grammar should be based, too much dispute over terminology, and too much uncertainty over the facts of the language, to produce a sound, comprehensible and comprehensive grammar. And bearing in mind that linguistics has been with us such a short time, this inadequacy is perhaps not surprising. A great deal has nonetheless been achieved.
Awareness of this inadequacy has not of course stopped people from trying to write such grammars; nor should it. The more attempts there are to formulate adequate grammars for particular applications in teaching and elsewhere, the more quickly the difficulties will be appreciated, and the sooner they will be overcome. What is important is that the potential users of these books should not make premature demands for their production (rushed research is regretted research), and that the authors of these books - or their publishers - should not make premature claims for their product. This prematurity can be possible in two ways. First, a linguistic introduction to the structure of English, let us say, can be premature in the sense that the kind of model in which it presents its rules and facts has been outdated by new ideas about the nature of the model, or about the formalization of the rules, or even about the nature of the facts (e.g. new statistical information about usage having become available). This has often happened, particularly in generative grammar, where the development of ideas has been so rapid that a grammar book is liable to find itself dismissed as old-hat by linguists, even when it is hot off the press. Naturally, teachers who are trying to get to grips with generative grammar are disturbed by this reaction; but they should not be, if they appreciate the inevitable movement in the progression of scientific theory.