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268Reviews Toward an Understanding of Language: Charles Carpenter Fries in Perspective. Peter Howard Fries, ed., in collaboration with Nancy M. Fries. Amsterdam Studies in the Theory and History of Linguistic Science, vol. 40. Amsterdam and Philadephia: Benjamins, 1985. xv + 385 pp. $40.00. In the essay "Fries and Linguistic Geography," their contribution to this volume on the life and work of Charles C. Fries, Raven and Virginia McDavid record their admiration for him as "someone who had lived his life fully to the last, and who had provided a model of energy, honesty, and generosity" (231). Happy concurrence in that judgment can be expected from all the contributors and the many readers who will welcome an attempt to place Fries "in perspective." But it is regrettable that Raven McDavid, whose memory the volume also honors, should have used the occasion to calumniate the good citizens who persuaded the Ann Arbor school board (however mistakenly) not to appeal the court's decision in "the Black English case." Peter and Nancy Fries, as editors, would have removed a blemish from McDavid's good scholarship and their good book if they had insisted on the excision of terms like "platoon of experts," "putative linguists," "the ringleaders," "the mob," and even "lynching posse." There is something too much of ego in some essays other than the McDavids', but no comparable malign irrelevance. The fourteen-page "Bibliography of Charles C. Fries" lists over fifty years of published and unpublished writing, and Richard W. Bailey's introductory biography does justice to its subject, who "is remembered by many with great affection and gratitude" (11). In a time of "competency testing" and deliberately narrowed access to education, one is glad to read of a famous professor's insistence that teachers must understand "the social pressure" on their students and that teachers themselves should be regarded "as inquirers rather than as masters of a subject" (6, 7). If any fault is to be found with Bailey's account, it might be that it is insufficiently critical. In the old matter of shall and will, for example, both Professor Patricia Ann Moody and J. R. Hulbert (if he were living) would object when Bailey approves Fries's claim (4) that the traditional rules were mere fabrications by wishful grammarians. Reviews269 Those remarks should not suggest, however, that Toward an Understanding of Language is hagiography. It is a serious evaluation of a serious scholar by serious colleagues and students who knew and valued his work (the McDavids, Peter and Nancy Fries, of course, Bailey, Harold Allen, Archibald Hill, Sidney Greenbaum, Kenneth Pike, and others), and the old-fashioned family photographs that genuinely adorn it are no more characteristic than the conviction running through it that Fries's descriptive and historical studies are relevant today. As Greenbaum puts it, "In the 1980s, a period when many competing linguistic theories vie for attention, Fries' approach to syntax deserves renewed consideration" (85). In the words of Janet Duthie Collins, "It is to be hoped that now there is beginning to be some assessment of the 'true' contribution and recognition of the fallacies inherent in transformational grammar theory, the very real value of Fries' historical work will finally be realized" (168). In a better world, one might also hope that linguists would be less prejudiced defenders of their own turf and more watchful monitors of their prose. Among the characteristics of Fries's work that his admirers most frequently recommend is that it was always based on "systematically gathered data," "a corpus of real examples" (75-76, 161, 169, 213, etc.). So far as I know, no linguist has ever been against data, but it may be worth repeating that between data and facts there is a difference. A datum is a relevant fact—a fact relevant to the question that the inquirer wants to answer, for particular purposes, on particular assumptions, by particular methods. In short, before one can talk sensibly about data, one must make one's choice among innumerable possible purposes, and having chosen a purpose, one must be guided toward its accomplishment by considered beliefs about the world and about ways of asking and answering questions in it. Data are...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 268-271
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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