LINGUIST List 11.322

Wed Feb 16 2000

Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <>


  1. benji wald, Re: 11.269, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function
  2. Thomas Egan, Re: 11.191, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function
  3. Kevin R. Gregg, Re: 11.191, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Message 1: Re: 11.269, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2000 19:07:25 -0500
From: benji wald <bwaldHUMnet.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 11.269, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

I can't resist a few comments on Phil Gaines' recent comments. I think
they need to be said.

To begin with, maybe I should make clear that I have no problem with
the issue of "grammaticality" of multiple central embedding, an old
chestnut from Chomsky vs. Lamb/Reich (stratificational grammar) in the
early 60s. In this respect, Larry Horn's posting was interesting, and
speaks for itself. It kinda ruined multiple central embedding as my
favorite example of something that's "grammatical" (for all it
matters) but not "acceptable". (Because Larry gave some examples
which I wouldn't count on not being acceptable to whoever I might be
trying to impress.)

On the other hand, Phil wrote at one point:

>This segues me into Tom's reference to "spontaneous speech". What is

I can't speak to what Tom means by the term, especially since I agree
with Phil that Tom used "grammatical" in an irrelevant and
inappropriate way in the context of discussion. However, when I or
various other linguists concerned with empirical studies of linguistic
change use the term we mean something like the first thing Phil

>Does it have to be something that a speaker does not think about in

We have special INTEREST in this concept, because we have reason to
believe that the less planned and more automatic such speech is
(corresponding to the generative argument that language is acquired
and used "effortlessly", for the most part) the more coherent the
system underlying it is, with consequences for making further
predictions. Phonological examples are easiest. So, for example,
many New Yorkers have long been ridiculed out of using a high quality
for the stressed vowel in "talk", "coffee", etc etc, and moderate
their pronunciation to a more mid region of vowel space -- WHEN THEY
ARE CONSCIOUS OF IT. That is, they are less likely to lower the
quality of this vowel when their speech is "spontaneous", i.e., NOT
planned in advance, NOT self-consciously slow, deliberate, guarded,
rehearsed, certainly not read, etc etc. We think the higher
pronuncations form a more coherent system with other vowels because
the nucleus of /oy/, as in "foil", "boy" etc. is virtually always
high, and is never subject to conscious "correction" (as we call it)
to a mid value. It is systematically related to the nucleus of /oh/,
as in "talk" etc, when the nucleus of /oh/ is not replaced by an
EXTERNAL norm (external to the basic system).

For the study of linguistic change, then, and especially for
understanding whatever systematicity may underlie much linguistic
change (in the simplest case meaning whether one change creates
favorable conditions for a later one), distinguishing spontaneous
speech from other kinds of speech is useful and helps reveal what the
future options for further change might be - what else to look for.
Things like that. Offhand, I'm not prepared to give as obvious an
example for grammatical/syntactic change, but in general it would be
something like the expectation that "pied piping", i.e., prepositional
fronting, before things traditionally called wh- questions, relative
clauses, and whatever else is involved, is not likely to engender
further syntactic changes in the future of English, because the
syntactic operation itself is not likely in spontaneous speech, and
thus not available to the contexts in which linguistic change most
revealingly operates. So, for example, I'm comparing:

 for what did you pay him? (already sounds questionable to me, nb
"questionable" = non-argumentative for

"ungrammatical" or "unacceptable",
pick one according to YOUR theory, whoever you are)
the job for which you paid him, etc.,

as against:
 what did you pay him for?
the job you paid him for, etc etc.

and that the latter, since they are most likely in spontaneous speech,
will be the locus of any further change -- and that the former, since
they are unlikely in spontaneous speech, are further removed from the
locus of unconscious change (the type of most interest to linguists),
and the most that can be expected of them is that they will stay the
way they are as long as they can; otherwise, they will lose contexts
or disappear altogether (i.e., nothing that does not already exist in
the English grammar will be built upon them in the future). [I guess
that means that "FOR WHO the bell tolls" would be unambiguously a
change in marking of "who", and in no way could be viewed
alternatively as a change in the grammatical privileges of "for", and
so on for prepositions in general].

Now there's a lot more to be said about such notions. But at least
you see the initial concern. Among the things that remain to be said
is that what changes in language is not part of what generativists
call UG. So, for those who are fixed on UG and for whom that's what
"grammar" means (e.g., "grammar" is what you're born with, and
performance is "dirty"), concepts like spontaneous speech may not at
first seem important. But no generativist would go that far, because
first of all it's not clear what's UG until you figure out what can
change (and deduce what canNOT), and then even for the quasi-example I
gave above "parameters" are considered part of the apparatus of the
study of "grammar" (if they are not "grammar" themselves), and whether
prepositions are fronted or not seems to be part of some "parameter"
of how "case" is marked -- or whatever the more current way of talking
about the above examples is.

Bottom line: if UG is "interesting" then so is "spontaneous speech"
because the data from the latter is part of the evidence to tell you
what's NOT UG. I must have set up a straw-man here, since
generativists are manifestly interested in linguistic change (though
it's not always clear why, part from traditional impetus). Phil's
comments on "spontaneous speech" should not be taken to imply
otherwise, even once the privileged connection between spontaneous
speech and the locus of linguistic change is acknowledged.

So then the rest of what Phil says in the same passage becomes his own
contribution to irrelevancy:

>Does it have to have been already said somewhere by someone? Does it have
>to be spoken?


Meanwhile, the point of the following is unclear to me:

Right now, I'm re-reading Ulysses, wherein Joyce famously
>does delightful acrobatics with grammar. One of his games in a long
>narrative section is to separate the verb from the subject by as much as 10
>lines of text. Two or three careful re-readings of such sentences are
>necessary to parse them. Now, if this is not "spontaneous" speech, then I
>would say that such a notion is on a continuum that is not particularly

This is what I objected to above. It seems unlikely that Joyce has
anticipated any possibility of future change in the grammar of
English. Phil can only mean "useful" in the above context in
suggesting what cannot change in English, because presumably it
reveals some universal. Without knowing exactly what Phil is
referring to I can't comment further. However, from what I recall of
Joyce, his verbal play is about as revealing about universals, the
particular nature of English, and the ways in which languages may
change (on their surfaces) as are language games like Anagrams or
Scrabble (whence we find such fascinating things out as that English
like Czech has some words with NO "vowels", e.g., 'WHY').

In another context, Phil wrote:

> If I may drag out the well-worn but still useful chess
>analogy: Most average chess players would not understand a chess game that
>Gary Kasparov might strategize, yet if he conforms to the rules it is a
>grammatical game. The fact that most English speakers would not understand
>"The rat..." is not an interesting point from the standpoint of the theory.

I said at the outset I had no problem with central embedding being
grammaticality, even if it's incomprehensible, and Larry's point even
makes it comprehensible (under felicitous pragmatic conditions).
However, the chess analogy does not strike me as totally felicitous.
Granted that an ordinary player may not understand the MEANING of
Kasparov's move at a certain point in the game, or even remember that
it was that particular move that led to the later consequence that he
crushed his opponent, but the same player would recognise that the
move was LEGAL (that's what chessplayers call moves that are allowed
by the rules of the game). But that's exactly what is at issue in the
multiple central embedding squabble. Is it "legal" = "grammatical"?
The chess analogy adds nothing more to it than to baldly assert that
it IS grammatical. Yes it is -- no it isn't -- yes... etc. What's
the point of that?

The Kasparov deep move example suggests more to me such things as
understanding what Shakespeare meant by some line, maybe "to be or not
to be", for example, it's grammatical -- as far as it goes -- but how
many of the people who have heard it disembodied have the faintest
idea what it's supposed to mean -- suicide? Or to give my favorite
example, "you can't HAVE your cake and EAT it too". I never
understood this annoying proverb until I realised that what it really
meant was "you can't EAT your cake and HAVE it too", IN THAT ORDER.
Now I'm not even sure the proverb is "grammatical". To paraphrase
William Clinton, I guess it depends on what "and" means.

- - Benji
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Message 2: Re: 11.191, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Date: Fri, 11 Feb 2000 09:31:50 +0100
From: Thomas Egan <>
Subject: Re: 11.191, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Thanks to Laurence Horn for his examples in
11.169 of structures resembling "The cat that the cat that the dog bit
chased ran". He writes

> Here's one real example in honor of the recently completed National
> Football League season:

 > "It's ironic that I'm here,
 > where the man [the trophy [I won =D8] is named after =D8]

> - Attested quote from Tony DeGrate, winner of the Vince Lombardi
trophy as
> a college senior at the U. of Texas, upon being cut from the Green Bay

> Packers professional football team, which had won five championships
> their legendary coach Vince Lombardi.

> Here are two more constructed examples fashioned from the same mold:

> The man [(that) the woman [I love =D8] is married to =D8] is
> jealous.

> The difficulty [(that) someone [I know =D8] is having =D8 with
> is...

These examples certainly seem a lot more like English to me than does
"the rat", from which they differ both with regard to the formal
variety of their three contiguous predicates and the fact that their
final verb is bivalent. I suspect that it's a combination of the
formal similarity between the three verbs in the "rat" example and the
fact that "ran" is only anchored in "the rat" that renders it so
strange to my ears. Until I see more evidence to the contrary I think
I'll stick with my intuition that "the rat" just isn't English. I am
emboldened in this stance by the asterisking of such a sentence in
Quirk et al. (1985:1040). I am, nevertheless, open to
convincing. I've had enough experience of being led astray by
intuition (especially when coloured by stylistic preferences) to be
more than willing to give way in the face of more evidence of actual
usage. However, until "the rat.." has been proven to be English,
surely any discussion of its grammaticality is a mite premature.

Phil Gaines <> writes, also in 11.169, that

> This segues me into Tom's reference to "spontaneous speech". What is
> Does it have to be something that a speaker does not think about in
> Does it have to have been already said somewhere by someone? Does it
> to be spoken? Right now, I'm re-reading Ulysses, wherein Joyce
> does delightful acrobatics with grammar. One of his games in a long
> narrative section is to separate the verb from the subject by as much
as 10
> lines of text. Two or three careful re-readings of such sentences are

> necessary to parse them. Now, if this is not "spontaneous" speech,
then I
> would say that such a notion is on a continuum that is not
> useful.

Some very interesting questions indeed: offhand I would be inclined to
answer that by "spontaneous speech" in this sense I mean all forms of
written and spoken production with three exceptions, to wit

1. utterances specifically produced to be cited, rather than used
(typically by linguists, language teachers, etc.)
2. utterances which are produced in a conscious effort to stretch the
boundaries of the language (typically by poets)
3. utterances which are produced in a conscious attempt to ape the
expressive modes of previous era (typically by writers of historical

I don't mean that we should necessarily exclude 2. and 3. totally from
our general corpora, but we should certainly be wary of the danger of
allowing them to be over-represented. Joyce is a very good example of
someone whose output ought to be approached with care. For instance, if
one chose to make Ulysses the backbone of one's corpus of early
twentieth century English, one could be landed with serious problems in
tracing the evolution of English clause structure. Just take two
sentences, from the "Oxen in the Sun" episode, written in 1920: "Before
born babe bliss had. Within womb won he worship." In this episode Joyce
goes on to mimic the style and structure of Middle English writers,
Elizabethan writes, etc. etc. I don't think that anyone would argue that
these passages should be allowed to influence our description of
contemporary English usage.

Phil also writes:

> From the standpoint of generative grammar, "Some people would have
went mad"
> is grammatical regardless of the dialect.

>From my standpoint, which is that of a teacher of English grammar to
non-native speakers, it isn't! Both "have went" and "have gone" are
English, since both are widely attested, both are also grammatical, but
only one is grammatical in Standard English. A notion of grammaticality
that ignores the actual differences between dialects seems an odd notion
to me, just as odd in fact as "the rat that the dog that the cat bit
chased ran", which is where I came in.

Tom Egan
Hedmark College
2318 Hamar
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Message 3: Re: 11.191, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Date: Tue, 15 Feb 2000 13:17:07 +0900
From: Kevin R. Gregg <>
Subject: Re: 11.191, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

>Kevin R. Gregg wrote (LINGUIST 11.169):
>>Grammaticality is a
>>technical term within a theory of grammar, hence it's the theory that tells
>>us what's grammatical or not. What a native speaker, including the
>>theoretical linguist, can tell us, with absolute authority, is whether the
>>sentence is acceptable, to that speaker; but the whole community of
>>English-speakers could with one voice reject 'The rat that etc.' as
>>unacceptable, without--simply in virtue of that unanimity-- impugning in
>>the least the veridicality of the theory that marks it grammatical.
>Essentially you have just said that a theory of grammar:
>a) cannot be tested by empirical means
>b) is completely arbitrary to the whims of the grammar theorist
>c) or else, only exists as a Platonic Ideal
>Though this may be an interesting philosophical position, it has serious
>problems as a basis for a science. Though I'm sure many of us would enjoy
>constructing logical Ideals of what we think language should be, (and some
>professional linguists do), this doesn't hold much interest to those of us
>interested in language as an empirical phenomenon in the real world.
>Empirical grammatical theories MUST account for the data actual usage of
>language by real speakers; there is no other empirical basis upon which to
>construct or evaluate them. (If you can think of another, I'd be glad to
>hear about it.)
>Marc Hamann
- -----------
 I think there may be a confusion here between 'empirical' and
'empiricist'; there certainly are other sources of empirical evidence for
grammatical theories besides utterances of speakers. Some people use their
intuitions, some people use ERP data, some do reaction-time studies. As
Fodor says, 'The data for a theory are *just whatever confirms its
predictions*, and can thus be *practically anything at all* (including, by
the way, bits and pieces of other theories)' (his emphasis). 
 There are also, in linguistics as in other sciences, non-empirical
reasons for preferring one explanation over another: the fact that there
is a plausible processing explanation for the unacceptability (not
ungrammaticality) of rat-type sentences, coupled with the lack of a
non-arbitrary syntactic criterion for ruling them out, is itself evidence
for their grammaticality: ceteris paribus, one chooses the simpler
 Acidity is a technical term within a chemical theory, hence it's
the theory that tells us what's acid or not; schizophrenia is a technical
term within a theory of mental disorders; white dwarf is a technical term
within astronomical theory, etc. There is, of course, no arguing with a
claim as to what a theory MUST do; but why should linguists feel any more
obliged to explain what laymen like me say about grammar than astronomers
should about white dwarfs? If you want to try to explain the actual usage
of language, far be it from me to stop you. But it does seem to me that
one is going to have one's work cut out to produce a *grammatical* theory
that will account, say, for the absence of the following utterances in most
 a) the rat the cat the dog chased bit died
 b) shut up, officer, or I'll knock your teeth down your throat
 c) he may have been being followed
 d) colorless green ideas sleep furiously
But do what you must.

ref: Fodor, J.A. 'The dogma that didn't bark (a fragment of a naturalized
epistemology)' Mind 100:201-20 (1991)

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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