A reader sent me a link to Martin Haspelmath’s 2008 paper “Framework-free grammatical theory” (pdf), which appeared last year in The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Analysis (a steal at under $300!). Having been out of the field for decades, I have no idea how his ideas fit into what professional linguists are now doing and thinking, but I like them very much; they echo what I’ve been saying since my grad school days:
Most linguists seem to agree that we should approach any language without prejudice and describe it in its own terms, non-aprioristically, overcoming possible biases from our native language, from the model of a prestige language (such as Latin or English), or from an influential research tradition (such as that of Donatus’s Latin grammar, or Chomsky’s generative grammar). I argue that this is absolutely essential if we want to come even close to doing justice to our research object, and that moreover any grammatical framework is precisely such a “prejudice” that we want to avoid. Frameworks set up expectations about what phenomena languages should, can and cannot have, and once a framework has been adopted, it is hard to free oneself from the perspective and the constraints imposed by it. What we need instead is the researcher’s ability to discover completely new, unexpected phenomena, to detect previously unsuspected connections between phenomena, and to be guided solely by the data and one’s own thinking.
I would be most interested in the reactions of any linguists in the crowd (and, of course, in those of others as well).