Interdisciplinary Approaches to Linguistics

Participating Faculties: Arts and Humanities (Host), Education, Health Sciences, Information and Media Studies, Science, Social Science

Project Leaders: Ileana Paul and Rob Stainton

Total Project Funding:  $70,500

Funding Period: 3 years

Most linguistics programs in Canada focus exclusively on the formal properties of language: e.g., the abstract rules of phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics. This is the sense of 'linguistics' in which it arguably is a traditional discipline, rather than being a genuinely interdisciplinary endeavour. Many other Canadian programs largely ignore this formal side, and look at language instead as a cultural/social activity.

Both traditions make very valuable contributions. (In fact, both are recognized in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities strategic plan.) We will move beyond each, however, adopting a very novel, much broader, perspective. For us, language is all at once and in equal parts a system of symbols which humans know and use. This makes language central to nearly every aspect of what makes us distinctively human; and it means that the proper study of language ought to draw simultaneously on results and methods from a panoply of traditional disciplines: computer science, education, health sciences, history, literary studies, neuroscience, philosophy, political science, traditional formal and applied linguistics, and more.

This is the background to our two aims. First, we will consolidate and expand existing interdisciplinary research on language - understood in the broad sense of a system of symbols which is known and used – by involving scholars already at Western who are not yet participating in our team. Second, we will introduce specific initiatives in undergraduate and graduate instruction and in research to expand and improve linguistics as construed in our inclusive and interdisciplinary sense. In short, the IDI will serve as an impetus for making Western a nationally recognized centre of excellence for the study of language pursued in this ecumenical, broad way: when scholars and students think of linguistics as not merely formal, not merely applied, but truly interdisciplinary, we want them to think immediately of Western.