LINGUIST List 11.129

Sun Jan 23 2000

Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <aristarlinguistlist.org>


Directory

  1. Ingo Plag, Re: 11.109, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function
  2. Lotfi, Disc: Review Newmeyer
  3. Patrick C. Ryan, Re: 11.109, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Message 1: Re: 11.109, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2000 18:32:38 +0100
From: Ingo Plag <plagmbox.anglistik.uni-hannover.de>
Subject: Re: 11.109, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Dear listers,

There is one criticism of generative grammar that is repeated over and
over again by some functionalists, and which has now been introduced
into the discussion by Marc Hamann, namely

"the empirical vagueness which surrounds the notion of grammaticality
judgements as a measure of competence."

I once talked to a by now well-known and well-respected generativist
about this problem after he had given a paper where he made an
important theoretical point on the basis of what I considered
extremely dubious grammaticality judgements. He openly acknowledged
that the judgements were simply his own, and that he had verified them
(only) by asking his colleague next door.

I consider this type of procedure methodologically totally inadequate
(for very good reasons for this (neither pro- nor contra-generativist)
view see the references given below).

However, I don't think that anyone should use the methodological
errors commited by an individual researcher (even if perhaps commonly
commited by many more researchers of the same theoretical persuasion)
as the prime argument against the theoretical positions put forward by
these researchers. There are many generative papers that provide
significant results and insights without recourse to any problematic
judgments.

Furthermore, recent studies of the methodological problems concerning
grammaticality judgments have shown that it is possible to gain
significant insights in many areas of grammar using grammaticality
judgments, PROVIDED IT IS PROPERLY DONE , i.e. using standardly
available empirical and statistical tools. For details and
recommendations how this can be achieved I refer the reader to the
following books:

Cowart,Wayne. 1997. Experimental Syntax: Applying Objective Methods to 
 Sentence Judgments. Beverly Hills/London: Sage.
Sch�tze,Carsten. 1996. The Empirical Base of Linguistics: Grammaticality 
 Judgments and Linguistic Methodology. Chicago: University of 
 Chicago Press.

In sum, I don't see any a priori reason why grammaticality judgments
should be excluded from our data base (be it for functionalist or
formalist studies), or how the problems involved with this kind of
data are an argument for or against any theory or theoretical
persuasion.

Best regards,
Ingo Plag


++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Prof. Dr. Ingo Plag
Englisches Seminar
Universitaet Hannover
Koenigsworther Platz 1
D-30167 Hannover

Tel: (0511) 762-5119
Tel: Secretary Ms. Kemnitzer (0511) 762-4748
Fax: (0511) 762-2996

e-mail: plagmbox.anglistik.uni-hannover.de
http://www.fbls.uni-hannover.de/angli/plag/welcome.html

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
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Message 2: Disc: Review Newmeyer

Date: 21 Jan 2000 21:51:54 EDT
From: Lotfi <Lotfiwww.dci.co.ir>
Subject: Disc: Review Newmeyer

On Wed, 19 Jan 2000 and in reply to Andrew Carnie's review of
Newmeyer's LFLF, Marc Hamann wrote:

>I can't speak for functionalism, but a key concern for me is the
>empirical vagueness which surrounds the notion of grammaticality
>judgements as a measure of competence. The major problem is that there
>are sentences which native speakers will judge unacceptable despite
>being able to understand them perfectly well (a trivial example is the
>double negative "I don't got nothing left."), while other sentences
>which ought to be "grammatical" sound very strange if not
>unintelligible (The rat that the cat that the dog bit chased ran.) I
>believe that a functionalist would be more interested in the fact that
>the former works and the latter doesn't rather than shunting the
>examples aside a "performance issues" and focusing on an idealized
>competence model.

I should thank functionalists from the bottom of my heart for whatever
they do to discover why 'the former works and the latter doesn't '.
But after all someone MUST take care of such issues as why the former
is not grammatical but the latter is! And that 'someone' is the
formalist. Then as Newmeyer insists, these two approaches can
complement each other.

>This is I think where the real divergence happens
>between the Chomsky School and a more functionalist one.

If this is really the case, then the whole thing is a misunderstanding!
But I have my own doubts in this respect. Noonan in his functionalist
syntax position paper in 'Functionalism and Formalism in Linguistics'
(1998), that I happened to review for Linguist (Vol-11-3. Mon Jan 10
2000), criticises formalism for issues following from (1) below rather
than those associated with (2):
(1)
 a. self-containedness
 b. systematicity
 c. arbitrariness (relational rather than substantive definitions
 for categories, e.g. an ADJ is not-Noun and not-VERB)
 d. discrete categories
 e. a static, synchronic system as the object of description
 f. distinction between abstract knowledge and use
(2)
 a. the rationalist/empiricist continuum
 b. the absence of functional analyses of aspects of grammar
 c. innateness
 d. the universalist/relativist continuum
 e. intuitions as the source of data
>
>AC expresses amazement that GPSG, HPSG and Categorial Grammar are more
>sympathetic to functionalism than is the Chomsky School, since he sees
>the former as being more formalist in many ways. I think here we must
>make a distinction between formalist methodology and formalist
>theory. Though GPSG, HPSG and CG are all much more rigorous and
>mathematically well-defined than any of the Chomsky School theories,
>at heart they are all using this formal methodology to MODEL language
>as a system of effectively communicating meaning and not proposing
>that the systems they are building are a real representation of some
>UG or other formal system in the heads of speakers divorced from the
>practical realities of performance.

Then: Andrew two, Marc one! First, minimalism is more functionalist
than many (but definitely not all) other formalist approaches exactly
because of the nature of its current theoretical status rather than
its methodology: the human language faculty as an optimal (but not
perfectly optimal) solution to the legibility conditions imposed on
language from 'outside'. As far as methodology is concerned, it's not
so much different from its predecessors ST, EST, REST, and GB. Second,
he was quite right when he said we linguists must learn to listen to
each other more carefully, which Marc didn't. Let me repeat a part of
my review of 'Functionalism and Formalism in linguistics' on the same
theme:

"The incoherent discourse between the functionalist and formalist ...
seems to be mainly due to the general deficiency of both parties
in formulating their positions ... .

The ever-increasing number of anomalies we formalists witness day by
day as theoretical tinkering is practiced more and more to 'stop the
leaks'-- successive revisions of minimalist syntax, syntactic 'feats'
to save the checking theory and Chomsky's thesis of movement, vaguely
(if ever) defined terms that prove one after another to be 'dubious'
such as strength, EPP-features, delete, erase, and ... just to name
the most typical ones-- all and all suggest that linguistics today is
already in the middle of a scientific crisis. ...

There is still no good reason for functionalists to celebrate either!
As Elizabeth Bates put it (quoted in Newmeyer, 1998), "functionalism
is like Protestantism: it is a group of warring sects which agree only
on the rejection of the authority of the Pope." Functionalist papers
in this collection reveal that they are far from being unanimous among
themselves with regard to any tenet Noonan has listed in his program-
matic functionalist paper. Bybee's account of such inconsistencies --
"Obviously there was, and still is, more than one idea about what
functionalism is (Vol. I, p. 212)")-- is educational in this respect.
Moreover, an alternative candidate for a paradigm is expected to be
definitely superior to the older theory in solving problems. It is
hard- ly enough for such a candidate to solve some and 'unslove' some
others as functionalists seem to do."

*********************************************** 
Ahmad Reza Lotfi, Ph. D. Chair of English Department Graduate School,
Azad University at Khorasgan, Esfahan, IRAN MailTo:
lotfiwww.dci.co.ir
************************************************
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Message 3: Re: 11.109, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2000 17:59:38 -0000
From: Patrick C. Ryan <proto-languageemail.msn.com>
Subject: Re: 11.109, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Dear Marc and Linguists:


> I can't speak for functionalism, but a key concern for me is the
> empirical vagueness which surrounds the notion of grammaticality
> judgements as a measure of competence. The major problem is that there
> are sentences which native speakers will judge unacceptable despite
> being able to understand them perfectly well (a trivial example is the
> double negative "I don't got nothing left."), while other sentences
> which ought to be "grammatical" sound very strange if not
> unintelligible (The rat that the cat that the dog bit chased ran.)

<snip>

What strange kind of English would consider the sentence in the last example
"grammatical"???

Although a rewording like

The rat that the cat bit that the dog chased ran.

is ambiguous, stylistically attrocious, it is perfectly understandable.

As the sentence was written above, I doubt that any speaker of English would
acknowledge it as "English", let alone "grammatical:.

Pat

PATRICK C. RYAN | PROTO-LANGUAGEemail.msn.com (501) 227-9947 * 9115 W. 34th
St. Little Rock, AR 72204-4441 USA WEBPAGES: PROTO-LANGUAGE:
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at ek hekk, vindga mei�i, n�tr allar n�u, geiri unda�r . . . a �eim mei�i er
mangi veit hvers hann af r�tum renn." (H�vamal 138)
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