LINGUIST List 11.384

Wed Feb 23 2000

Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <>


  1. Jonathan Centner, Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function
  2. Alex V. Kravchenko, Re: 11.109

Message 1: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2000 17:28:14 -0500
From: Jonathan Centner <>
Subject: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

The Horn example looked less like multiple embedding ( as discussed in
Pinker) and somewhat like overlap deletion. I am sorry I did not catch
all the posts on this subject, I hope my casual mention on this is
germaine to what everyone is talking about.

I have been a longtime fan of Ray Jackendoff's work and it seems this
discussion could shed some interesting insights, because his model seems
to be where this is all heading at.

Jonathan Centner
Southampton, New York
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Message 2: Re: 11.109

Date: Thu, 17 Feb 2000 15:53:59 -0600
From: Alex V. Kravchenko <>
Subject: Re: 11.109

	Formalists and functionalists may go on running each other's
"goods" (that is, methodologies) down, but how does it help
linguistics as a science in achieving its ultimate goal --
understanding WHAT language IS, WHAT language DOES, and WHY it is what
it is and does what it does?

	It is no secret that linguistic theory today suffers from a
lot of misconceptions about the possible answers to these questions,
which is, historically, quite natural and understandable. Likewise, it
is no secret that the dominating methodologies have reached their
cognitive-explanatory peak and are frantically looking for something
to grab on in order simply to survive. Hence -- bitter warring among
different camps and a lot of criticisms, but little advance in
rethinking the whole issue CONCEPTUALLY.

	Take, for example, disputes about
grammaticality. Grammaticality judgements, typically, are based on an
individual's capability to interpret a possible meaning of a randomly
arranged string of words, but this interpretation has nothing, or very
little, to do with GRAMMAR as a relatively simple sign system for
encoding human COGNITIVE EXPERIENCE. A sentence such as "The rat that
the cat bit that the dog chased ran" can be (and is, at least by some
less methodologically minded people, as we are told) understood and
interpreted as meaningful only empirically, utilizing all the
background knowledge and life experience of the interpreter. I doubt
that the quoted example would be understood as a meaningful
(grammatical?) sentence by any speaker of English were it not for the
fact that it's just a distorted version of a well-formed (grammatical)
sentence known to any educated speaker of English whose cultural
background includes the famous original piece "This is the house that
Jack built".

	The point I am trying to make is this: what linguists often
claim to be the properties of grammar (language), is nothing but what
they think they can discover there utilizing their scientific
knowledge of today's world. This is a methodological phallacy
doggedly overlooked by representatives from many different camps,
formalists and functionalists being no exception. There is only one
way out of this deadend -- to change the whole methodological
PARADIGM, acknowledging the EXPERIENTIAL nature of language. But this
is a step very few (so far) are willing to take.
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