LINGUIST List 11.2128

Tue Oct 3 2000

Disc: Review Green

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Kevin R. Gregg, Re: 11.2102, Disc: Review Green
  2. Mike Maxwell, Re: 11.2113, Disc: Review Green

Message 1: Re: 11.2102, Disc: Review Green

Date: Tue, 03 Oct 2000 15:22:53 +0900
From: Kevin R. Gregg <>
Subject: Re: 11.2102, Disc: Review Green

>From: "Robert R. Ratcliffe" <>
>Subject: Re: 11.2064, Disc: Review of Green

>One reason I have come to find Chomsky's particular theory of the
>Language Faculty implausible is that second language learners generally
>have no difficulty learning the grammatical categories, phrase
>structure, etc. of a second language. What adults have so much
>difficulty with in a second language and what children learn with ease
>and amazing speed-- pronunciation and vocabulary of the first
>language-- cannot possibly be part of Universal Grammar. In other words
>UG, as Chomsky formulates it, just doesn't give a satisfactory
>explanation for the differences between first and second language

****But wouldn't the putative ability of adults to get the L2 morphosyntax
right while not doing as well as kids in vocabulary and pronunciation be
grist for the mill of a theory that excludes vocab and pronunciation from
the bailiwick of UG? (I'm sure there are plenty of people ready to dispute
Ratlciffe's assessment of the child-adult differences, but that's as may

> But this doesn't mean that our intuitions are innate. 

***But of course no one is claiming that our intuitions are innate (or that
our knowledge of calculus is innate). The claim is that there is a poverty
of the stimulus problem in trying to account for our intuitions: eg
Maxwell's intuitions about parasitic gaps (was it?) are not themselves
innate (knowledge of English isn't innate), but he could not have those
intuitions--not to mention share them with millions of others--were it not
for some sort of innate knowledge. Of course this innate knowledge itself
need not be specifically linguistic; but it's awfully hard to think of a
more domain-general innate knowledge that would provide such intuitions.

Kevin R. Gregg
Momoyama Gakuin University
(St. Andrew's University)
1-1 Manabino, Izumi
Osaka 594-1198 Japan 0725-54-3131 (ext. 3622)
fax. 0725-54-3202
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Message 2: Re: 11.2113, Disc: Review Green

Date: Tue, 3 Oct 2000 10:51:14 -0400
From: Mike Maxwell <>
Subject: Re: 11.2113, Disc: Review Green

With regard to the debate over issues of data, introspection, etc., I
decided I had said enough, and resolved to apply the verse in Proverbs that
says "Even the fool, when he keeps silent, is counted wise" :-). Then Jose
Luis Guijarro asked me to clarify the following comments I had made:

>Some generative linguists in non-MIT theories...
>believe MIT linguists have started ignoring some
>of the relevant data (perhaps relegating it to the
>so-called "periphery".

One of the results of getting older, I'm afraid, is that things that
happened ten or fifteen years ago seem like they happened only yesterday.
(My grandfather was still complaining about Catherine the Great in the
1950s, so I guess I inherited this.) Unfortunately, that clarity seems to
dissolve when I try to put my fingers on a reference. I clearly recall a
"Topic...Comment" column in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory by a West
Coast linguist which claimed that the East Coast linguists had given up on
observational adequacy in favor of pursuing descriptive and explanatory
adequacy. I just went through my stack of NLLTs without finding that
column. (Must be the issue the termites in Colombia ate.) I did find an
ancient (1985) "Topic...Comment" column by Tom Wasow (3: 485-491) that
touched on the issue, but without the clear statement about levels of
adequacy that I recall.

There's also the debate that went on in the pages of Linguistic Inquiry in
the early '80s between Postal and Pullum on the one hand, and Aoun and
Lightfoot on the other, over the explanation of certain contraction facts.
The following (from page 472 of Aoun and Lightfoot 1984 "Government and
Contraction" LI 465-473, emphasis in the original) gives a flavor:

 P&P find it theoretically suspicious that
 trace theory advocates can claim to have
 achieved explanatory success when in
 fact their descriptions fail. We would
 argue that one can explain some facts
 even if others are left undescribed; it is
 unreasonable to say that one has no
 explanation until all facts are described. needs to describe the _relevant_
 facts. P&P fail to show that the facts they
 discuss are in any way relevant...

I'm sure there's more recent discussion of these claims; perhaps a another
(younger...) reader of LinguistList can help here.

BTW, I'm not trying to start a discussion on the issue of whether some
linguists are sweeping relevant data under the rug of the "periphery". It
merely came up as an instance of my partial agreement with Joybrato
Mukherjee (in issue 11.2095), and I don't feel a need to defend either side
of this particular debate. (The editor of LI cut off the debate shortly
after the above-cited article.)

 Mike Maxwell
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