LINGUIST List 11.130

Sun Jan 23 2000

Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

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


Directory

  1. Pavel Oratro, Re: 11.57, Review: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function
  2. Martin Haspelmath, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function
  3. debra ziegeler, Disc: Review of Newmeyer 1998

Message 1: Re: 11.57, Review: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2000 15:34:50 EST
From: Pavel Oratro <oratro291xxchotmail.com>
Subject: Re: 11.57, Review: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Andrew Carnie in his review (LINGUIST 11.57) made the
following comment:

"The next class of functionalist theories includes the Emergent
Grammar approach of Hopper (1987), and various unnamed "functional-
typological" approaches. Croft labels these as Integrative
functionalist approaches. N observes that such approaches "deny the
Saussurian dictum that it is meaningful to separate langue from parole
and synchrony from diachrony" (N:16). In essence, the Integrative
approaches deny that the cognitive system is self-contained, and that
social and historical factors interact with it to an extremely high
degree. I have to admit that I still don't understand this
approach. Perhaps it is my MIT training showing through and blinding
me to the obvious, but I simply fail to see how it is at all possible
that a two-year old child has direct access to diachronic influences
like OE word order or the great vowel shift. As far as I can tell,
without time-machines or university degrees, infants only have access
to what they hear spoken around them, which makes this approach
psychologically incoherent. "

As a functionalist, I am really getting very tired of seeing this kind
of comment. Formalists do not seem to be actually reading what
functionalists say. (A fact we all know in our heart-of-hearts is
true, anyway.) No functionalist makes the absurd claim that children
practice a form of mental time-travel (though didn't Chomsky and Halle
sort-of say this in _Sound Pattern of English_?) What they do say is
that language isn't fixed in stone at the age of two. It keeps on
changing. That means that the processes that cause language change
are also functional in the language facilities of individual speakers.
So the grammar of a speaker of a language exhibits diachronic change
through his life.

Now, what's hard to understand about this? What's incoherent about
it? The evidence of sociolinguistics is pretty overwhelming in its
favor, after all, and very much against the view that language change
is all just a function of language acquisition.
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Message 2: Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Date: Sat, 22 Jan 2000 16:41:45 +0000
From: Martin Haspelmath <haspelmatheva.mpg.de>
Subject: Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Fritz Newmeyer writes in his comments on Joe Hilferty's comments:

> Finally, I find it a bizarre assessment of LFLF to say that it 'attempts
> to show why functionalism is misguided in most of its details'. Quite the
> contrary, LFLF takes a functionalist stance throughout. Fortunately, most
> functionalist commentators have recognized this fact. For example, Martin
> Haspelmath, in his forthcoming review of LFLF in Lingua, describes me as a
> 'functionalist Chomskyan'.

I don't agree with everything Hilferty said, but I don't think that
it's bizarre to say that LFLF "attempts to show why functionalism is
misguided in most of its details"; and I don't see why it would be
incompatible with saying (as I do) that Newmeyer is a "functionalist
Chomskyan". LFLF has one chapter devoted to "external explanation",
where Newmeyer recognizes that some (or many) aspects of language
structure are susceptible of functional explanation. But it has four
chapters that consist in defending current (or recent, i.e. GB)
Chomskyan practice against functionalist criticisms, often by arguing
that the functionalist ideas are misguided. So while he accepts
functionalism as a general philosophy, one gets away with the
impression that most of the book is negative after all (as is also
clear from Carnie's review).

I think nobody would expect from Newmeyer to spell out in detail how
his functionalism and his Chomskyanism could be combined in practice
(although of course only such a demonstration could have a real impact
on the future development of linguistics). My main criticism of his
book is that it does not do enough to shed light on why we have this
division in linguistics, and what really separates functionalists and
formalists. For instance, why do functionalists tend to believe that
word classes have fuzzy boundaries, while Chomsykans believe they have
sharp boundaries? Why do functionalists tend to look at large
cross-linguistic databases, while Chomskyans are often content with
just a few languages for their universal generalizations?

In my forthcoming review article (to appear in the next issue of
Lingua), I argue that such questions can be answered if the
fundamental difference between the two approaches is not located in an
assumption about autonomy, but in different basic goals:
Functionalists ask "Why is language the way it is?"; Chomskyans ask
"How can language be acquired despite the poverty of the stimulus?"
(and perhaps HPSG-type linguists ask "How are languages best
described?").

Martin Haspelmath

Max-Planck-Institut fuer evolutionaere Anthropologie
Inselstr. 22
D-04103 Leipzig
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Message 3: Disc: Review of Newmeyer 1998

Date: Sun, 23 Jan 2000 00:37:55 -0800 (PST)
From: debra ziegeler <dziegeleryahoo.com>
Subject: Disc: Review of Newmeyer 1998


I'm coming in a little late on this discussion, just
having had the time to catch up on the back issues,
but I couldn't help noticing something in Carnie's
review that he seems to share with Newmeyer and that
requires further comment:

"Perhaps it is my MIT training showing through and
blinding me to the obvious, but I simply fail to see
how it is at all possible that a two-year old child
has direct access to diachronic influences like OE
word order or the great vowel shift. As far as I can
tell, without time machines or university degrees,
infants only have access to what they hear spoken
around them, which makes this approach psychologically
incoherent."

Newmeyer's point, in his Chapter 5, 'Deconstructing
Grammaticalization' was this (1998: 238):

"But I feel the term 'process' is dangerous when
applied to a set of DIACHRONIC developments [N's
emphasis]. The reason for the danger is that it
invites one to conceive of such developments as being
subject to a distinct set of laws that are independent
of the minds and behaviors of individual language
users. However, nothing transgenerational can be
situated in ANY human faculty [N's emphasis again].
Children are not born with racial memories that fill
them in with the details of the history of the forms
that they hear. They have no way of knowing whether
some particular clitic in their grammar, for example,
was once a full noun phrase or whether it is on its
way to affixhood."

Without going into the need to investigate what
Newmeyer meant by the puzzling term, "racial memory",
it seems necessary to refer to some earlier research
on the correspondences between diachronic and
ontogenetic processes, first discussed in Slobin
(1997), and later in Ziegeler (1997) which reassembles
many examples of such parallels under a new
hypothesis. The curiosity of Carnie's and Newmeyer's 
comments is not unwarranted, but the answer to such
questions is not remarkable, as pointed out by Slobin,
in that simple cognitive structures will always form
the basis for more complex ones (whatever the
context). While a child's acquisitional paths of
grammatical development may not coincide with complete
accuracy with the paths of diachronic development of a
grammatical item, the motivation for the development
in either case may be similarly built on the pragmatic
forces which mechanise the processes of
grammaticalisation, and create latent grammatical
material out of existing lexical items. There is no
question of the individual 'accessing' the diachronic
developments of a grammaticalising item in such a way
that the speaker is aware of exactly which stage on a
grammaticalisation chain the item is now situated ("No
actual speaker can be expected to know where some item
might fall along a particular chain." - Newmeyer 1998:
239), and it is ridiculous even to muse on the
possibility. The coincidence of ontogenetic
grammaticalisation with diachronic grammaticalisation
is not a factor of individual awareness; the parallels
exist merely because the processes are similar, and
the similarity appears to be created by similar
levels of pragmatic inferencing within different
contexts.

Debra Ziegeler


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