LINGUIST List 11.2113

Mon Oct 2 2000

Disc: Review Green

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. jose luis guijarro, RE: 11.2095, Disc: Review Green
  2. j.mukherjee, Disc: Review of Green

Message 1: RE: 11.2095, Disc: Review Green

Date: Mon, 2 Oct 2000 17:22:16 +0200
From: jose luis guijarro <>
Subject: RE: 11.2095, Disc: Review Green

Hola a todas y a todos!

Classes have started at my University, so I must be brief in my commentaries
to the following parts of the interesting messages.on the topic under

> Date: Sat, 30 Sep 2000 14:51:29 -0400
> From: "Mike Maxwell" <>
> Subject: Re: 11.2092, Disc: Review Green


> Some generative linguists in non-MIT theories have remarked on this
> tendency, more recently, and I tend to be sympathetic to them. At issue
> the question of observational adequacy vs. descriptive or explanatory
> adequacy. That is, these critics believe MIT linguists have started
> ignoring some of the relevant data (perhaps relegating it to the so-called
> "periphery"). There probably needs to be some selection of data (Newton's
> theory of motion, for example, did not cover biological growth, a kind of
> motion which was covered by Aristotle's theory of motion); at issue is how
> one selects that data. But I don't think either side in this
> generative-internal debate would say that corpora are all we need, or even
> central.

JLG: According to me, your remarks carry a lot of weight. However, it is
difficult for me to follow you in the above passage. I would like to hear
(or better, "read") a more detailed description of this problem. Would you
care to oblige? Thanks!

> Date: Sat, 30 Sep 2000 17:01:35 -0400
> From: Ronald_SheenUQTR.UQuebec.CA (Ronald Sheen)
> Subject: Re: 11.2092, Disc: Review Green


> **This raises yet one more question. Does JM still accept the validity of
> Krashen's input hypothesis ie that exposure to comprehensible input alone
> will trigger the acquisition of accurate grammatical competence. If he
> does, I'd appreciate his citing the evidentiary support and his arguments
> in rebuttal of the findings which demonstrate that not wasting time on
> non-communicative activities (ie providing grammatical instruction)
> in marked grammatical inaccuracy in oral production. (The Canadian
> Immersion findings, for example.)

JLG: I am glad you mentioned this. I had no idea about it. Where can one
find more information? Thanks in advance!

> Date: Sat, 30 Sep 2000 18:03:19 -0700 (PDT)
> From: Dan Moonhawk Alford <>
> Subject: Re: 11.2076, Disc: Review of Green


> How about the way we teach our babies "Hot!" -- is it one word
> among many, like "ball" and "bed"? Hardly. It's invested with emotion
> suggesting danger and physical movements of pulling the hand away in order
> to get the child to understand the "seriousness to survival" meaning of
> that word. We engage more brains into the acquisition process. Along with
> many words there's an emotional tone/tune ALSO expressing whether it's
> good or bad for the child. This is what I meant by picking up meanings
> from all over: different levels of meaning, including emotional. Some
> believe that memories are stored first by emotions, for instance. So an
> emotional tone demonstrably helps "fix" the word and concept in the baby's
> memory, yet that seemingly is "para-linguistic," not really "language."

JLG: I am not sure I understand you correctly, but I will make some
comments, anyway
(1) It's strange that you should associate "hot" with "danger of being
burned". I take it that this is the most available sense for you. For me,
instead, who live in a "hot" country, hating the heat as I do, the first and
most salient "emotion". that associates with that term is "Ufffff!!"
(thereby perspiring copiously)

(2) However, I have learned the word "hot" and can understand it when you
use it in your mental context as, I hope, you can understand it in my mental
context. Do you really think that to learn the word "hot" you or me had to
have a _"look out" / "ufffff"_ emotion before? This is a strange thought
from my point of view.

(3) Perhaps, what you are pointing to is that, when one is very strongly
motivated, experiences associated with that strong motivation are likely to
get fixed in our memories. Fair enough, I have no quarrel with that obvious
fact. What I was discussing before, however, was that INSIDE A CLASSROOM,
learning a second language is not normally too strongly motivated. And that
I doubted very much wether the communicative approach was able to provide a
reinforcement of that motivation. You see, I think that the
"communicating-real-language-stuff-in-class" is either (a) an obvious
truism, since whatever you do in a class you are REALLY COMMUNICATING with
the students and they with you, or (b) an impossible feat, since whatever
else you try to fake as real communication is, by definition, a FAKE
COMMUNICATIVE situation. So, I am unable to begin to understand (i) what is
the "originality" of having a class where real communication takes place,
and (ii) how this real communication (in both senses, a and b) makes up for
the missing motivation one might have in other real life situations.


>DM: We have a primate brain with extensive modification.
> We share brainwave levels and brains with them as well as have a level and
> functional brain they lack. We share body language, emotional tunes/tones,
> and simple utterances "words"/calls) with them, and differ by complex
> utterances.

JLG: Again, I am not certain of what you wish to stress here. If your
contention is that in teaching a foreign language one should use a lot of
para- and extra- linguistic behaviour, I assume that this MUST BE SO in
classes where the learners do not share a common first language. It is very
clear to me that "language" (or, in my Spanish terminology, IDIOMA) alone is
not THE means humans have to communicate. It is a very helpful tool among
many others (roughly, what you call a "body language", which, I wouldn't
call "IDIOMA corporal", but "LENGUAJE corporal". I told you before in
another debate, Dan, remember? The trouble with you, anglophones, is that
you have only the one word LANGUAGE, where lucky we have three, IDIOMA,
LENGUA and LENGUAJE. So we can be a lot more accurate than you. Tough, but
such is life!).

The problem for me is to understand why indeed in a class where all the
students have the same mother language, say Spanish (since it's me the one
who is writing now), one should not use this very helpful tool (i.e.,
Spanish) in teaching another language, say English, to them. What good does
this volontary "renouncement" bring about in class? Can anyone answer that
very simple question with a simple and clear answer?


> DM: A complementary meaning-first approach might look, AS WELL, at the
> integrative and coherent aspects of meaning which surround the utterance
> like an onion-layered field.

JLG: That's exactly what I mean above. It's hard for you, anglophones, "to
make the necessary distinctions" (as Jerry Fodor advised us to do). Now, our
IDIOMAS, although very useful, are not waterproof tools with which we can
unambiguously make our intentions, and the information we want to share with
others, manifest . My representation, then, is that with the help of that
(useful but far from perfect) tool you can point to a field of individual
representations of yours which you would like to make manifest to others.
Now this pointing is what I call meaning. And as, I insist, language,
although mighty useful, is far from perfect, we NEED to use a lot more
cognitive processes to approach a similar field of representations to the
one you had in mind in the first place. If it's close enough, communication
will have suceeded. If not, a mis-understanding will have arisen. Now, THIS
ability is already well entrenched in the human minds of those that try to
learn a foreign IDIOMA. You seem to be implying that the oposite is indeed
the case: that one has to teach in class how to adapt to the representations
of others in communicating. I have given you my reasons for doubting that
this has to be done. It's your turn to give me your reasons. Till then,

Adios, amigo!

Jose Luis Guijarro Morales
Facultad de Filosofia y Letras
Avda. Gomez Ulla, 1
11003 Cadiz (Espa´┐Ża)
Tel. +34 956 015526
Fax. +34 956 015501

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Message 2: Disc: Review of Green

Date: Mon, 02 Oct 2000 23:51:16 +0200
From: j.mukherjee <>
Subject: Disc: Review of Green

Dear colleagues,

sorry for having started my last contribution to this discussion with
somewhat sore remarks. I must have overreacted...

The latest comments have shed further light on the most central points in my
opinion. Due to the myriad of aspects which have been tackled in the course
of the discussion, I am - unfortunately - forced to concentrate on five
general points which have gradually turned out to be those ones which lie at
the heart of our argument:

1. Linguistic description and data (or the old competence-performance

Of course, there must be something like a language competence in the mind of
the language user (I use competence here in a non-technical sense and do not
differentiate between native and non-native competence) and I follow
Ratcliffe's line of argumentation who calls for a clear-cut distinction
between mentalism and innatism. However, what I am concerned with in the
first place is the question how langage competence, be it intuition-based or
learned, can be best described from the linguistic point of view. I know
that Chomskyan linguistics is interested in competence and not in language
use, but I nevertheless cannot help regarding authentic data, obtained from
actual language use, as the only empirical/objective/verifiable basis on
which we can draw when we want to come to grips with competence. I do not
assume that competence and language use ("performance") can be separated
altogether. Language use is a product of competence, and the rules and
principles which make up language competence are a generalization of
language use. I think a large enough corpus can serve as a mirror through
which we may access the unobservable competence in the mind. As a matter of
fact, a corpus is and will always be a sample and will, thus, by definition
never attest everything (e.g. vocabulary, grammar). This fact is not called
into question by corpus linguists: Aarts (1991), for example, sketches out
how "observation-based" and "intuition-based" can be brought together.
However, I will always prefer an empirical, i.e. corpus-based description of
a linguistic aspect which accounts for, say, 80% of this aspect to a totally
intuition-based (generativist) approach which might bring to the fore an
exhaustive model, but without empirical evidence.

2. Corpus linguistics and EFL

Jose Luis Guijarro wrote:
"Nobody ever taught me using that corpus based approach. And although my
English is far from perfect, here I am debating with you native English
speakers. What is the PROVEN good a corpus based approach will achieve? Can
somebody answer this very simple question in a simple manner?"

Unfortunately, the scope of corpus data and corpus linguistic methods
concerning EFL teaching are just about to emerge. If you, however, look at
recently published EFL textbooks or dictionaries (esp. COBUILD), you will
see what corpus linguistics has already contributed to EFL teaching. For
instance, the order in which irregular verbs are taught today (in Germany)
follows, grosso modo, the frequencies as attested in representative corpora.
As far as classroom procedures are concerned, a good example of the scope of
corpus linguistics is the data-driven use of collocations. EFL students face
the difficult task of learning the regular co-occurrences of words, i.e.
which other words are preferred by L1 speakers to the left and to the right
of a specific word. Today many software programs are available which can
provide this kind of information within seconds: hundreds or thousands of
authentic examples of specific words (e.g. make and do) in context.

3. Quid pro quo, Jose (and perhaps Kevin)

Drawing on the Corpus of London Teenage Language, Andersen (1997) observes
that London teenagers tend to use invariant tags regardless of the lexical
verb in the main clause, e.g. "innit/isn't it" with "go". Please explain to
me how this - very frequent - use fits into a generative description of
language competence? Is the underlying rule part of teenagers' language
competence? Is this phenomenon ungrammatical, a "poor mirror of competence"
because it is restricted to spontaneous spoken teenage talk? Is it, however,

4. Hypothesis and evidence

Ratcliffe points out that "the universal grammar hypothesis has never, as
far as I know, even been stated in explicit falsifiable terms, and it has
certainly never been subjected to empirical test." In my opinion, this
really hits the nail on the head. Formal, intuition-based theories of
universal grammar (and generativist language competence) might be plausible,
but they cannot be vindicated by empirical evidence. Someone wrote in the
course of this discussion (I do not remember who, but I guess it was Jose)
that evolution is another example of concepts which cannot be proven.
However, Darwin did not simply develop the theory of evolution sitting in an
armchair, thinking and surprisingly hitting on the solution. Rather,
evolutionist theory exemplifies a clearly observation-based model, based on
what Darwin had seen on the voyage of the Beagle. Coming back to
linguistics, corpus-based descriptions of language have the great advantage
that they are founded on empirical data. The conclusions may turn out to be
wrong in the long run (i.e. in the light of larger corpora) and subject to
refinement or revision, but they are based on authentic and accessible data.

5. One last comment on Mike Maxwell's last comment

Mike Maxwell wrote:
"One last comment:
>I know some Dutch people in the neighbourhood whose
>knowledge of German is, so far as I can judge, nativelike.
>This holds for lexico-grammar, stylistic appropriateness,
>pronunciation and even intonation. All of them learned
>German as a foreign language at school... [JM]
But what do native speakers of German say?"

I happen to be a native speaker of German. Does this change your opinion?


Joybrato Mukherjee

Department of English, University of Bonn
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