LINGUIST List 13.2005

Mon Jul 29 2002

Disc: Language Description, Huddleston & Pullum

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <karenlinguistlist.org>


Directory

  1. Geoffrey K. Pullum, some points of agreement about The Cambridge Grammar

Message 1: some points of agreement about The Cambridge Grammar

Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2002 11:30:53 -0700 (PDT)
From: Geoffrey K. Pullum <pullumling.ucsc.edu>
Subject: some points of agreement about The Cambridge Grammar

Despite the trappings of squabble and a charge of "strangely offensive
tone", much agreement emerges on matters of fact, if not on matters of
taste, from Joybrato Mukherjee's response (LINGUIST 13.1952;
henceforth JM2) to the critique by Rodney Huddleston and me 
(LINGUIST 13.1932; henceforth H&P) of his review (LINGUIST 13.1853) 
of "The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language."

First, a terminological point. The reader of JM2 might be forgiven
for thinking Mukherjee's abbreviation policy utterly perverse: he
starts out using "CGEL" for The Cambridge Grammar of the English
Language (as H&P did), and then switches to using that abbreviation
for Quirk et al.'s 1985 work "A Comprehensive Grammar of the English
Language". But in fact he is quite right about the very unfortunate
coincidence of initials here.

To go any further into this matter I am going to have to reveal an
insider secret. For ten years The Cambridge Grammar had the working
title "The Cambridge Grammar of English", and the abbreviation "CGE".
As we were going into production, Cambridge University Press announced
we would have to change this, as they felt the title sounded too much
like various titles in their EFL series. They wanted it to end in
"the English Language" to match their multi-volume "Cambridge History
of the English Language." We objected. We believed very strongly that
there would be confusion if the initials of our work were the same as
those of Quirk et al. (1985). They insisted. So Mukherjee is
absolutely correct in noting the unfortunate initials clash (and
within his rights, I suppose, to aggravate it by returning to the
earlier tradition). There are real grounds for confusion here, just
as we predicted. Right now I don't know WHAT abbreviation policy to
follow, but clearly I should avoid saying "CGEL" in what follows.

On matters of more substance, I discern at least ten points of
agreement.

(1) BINARITY. JM2 agrees that The Cambridge Grammar does not assume
binary branching analyses for everything (Kayne does, we don't). We
adopt the division of canonical clauses into subject and predicate (NP
and VP in category terms) not because of any infatuation with binary
branching but because (like Quirk et al.) we think that it is correct.
For VPs like "show me the money" we don't think binary branching is
correct; there we assume ternary branching.

(2) CONSTITUENCY. JM2 is right to says that we lay somewhat more
emphasis than Quirk et al. do on branching (hence on binary
branching, where that is the analysis), and constituent structure
generally. Our grammar is more firmly founded on phrase structure
approaches, and that is indeed a point of contrast between the two
grammars.

(3) GENERATIVISM. JM2 is correct in seeing much influence of
generative grammar on our work. (We did not "resent" his noting
this.) We have drawn many insights from generativist work of the last
fifty years. We merely pointed out that our adoption of the NP-VP
canonical clause structure was not at all motivated by the tenets of
generativism.

(4) DETERMINACY. We are all in agreement about whether The Cambridge
Grammar accepts the possibility of multiple analyses. JM2 accepts
that it does, but notes a difference in degree: Quirk et al. tend
often to suggest that things are actually indeterminate -- vagueness
rather than ambiguity, there being no decision about which is the
right analysis in some cases. There is an opposite tendency
noticeable in The Cambridge Grammar: we try to find arguments that
eliminate indeterminacy and home in on a particular analysis, IF the
facts can be found to fully support it. So there is no disagreement
here about the approach of the two books. If Mukherjee actually
thinks it is proper to remain agnostic about whether "looked after her
son" is "[looked after] [her son]" or "[looked] [after her son]", we
cannot follow him that far; but we can agree that the Quirk et
al. book seems agnostic on the point, and The Cambridge Grammar does
not (we give syntactic arguments that the second analysis is the
correct one in that case).

(5) DATA. There seems to be no dispute about what kinds of data The
Cambridge Grammar was based on. We agree with JM2 that it was not
based on a selected representative corpus, but rather on large amounts
of information about English from various sources, from intuitions to
computer-searchable text collections to factual material presented in
other publications. We do not quite understand what Mukherjee's
definition of a corpus is, but it does not seem to matter here; we can
agree with him that The Cambridge Grammar does not appear to be
strictly corpus-based in whatever his sense is. Likewise we can agree
that we did not attempt to cite sources for every example used. As
JM2 puts it, "The reader does not know which of the examples are
invented, edited or natural (nor, if they are authentic, where they
come from)." Our policy therefore differs from Jespersen's; but (and
it is really very surprising that Mukherjee did not note this point)
it does not differ from that of Quirk et al.: they, like us,
illustrated their points with examples of which many were no doubt
real, but none were attributed to sources.

(6) STATISTICS. We can also agree with JM2 that "not anything that
appears in performance data can/should be included in a grammar",
though to say that "there always is a frequency-based threshold level"
is going too far: for us, whether something is ungrammatical is still
in principle a distinct issue from whether it is rare. Our 1750+
pages of description contain many remarks about frequency as we
separate sporadic mistakes from genuinely rare grammatical forms.
These remarks are, at least in an informal sense, statistical claims.
And JM2 is correct in pointing out that The Cambridge Grammar only
very rarely backs them up with exact frequency figures or statistical
analyses. Of course, here our policy does agree with Jespersen: he
cited literary examples with sources, but did not give statistical
frequency data.

(7) METHODOLOGY. JM2 states "the authors and the reviewer disagree on
two crucial points: the notion of corpus and the theoretical and
methodological implications of the use of corpus data." But the
disagreement cannot be deep. As noted above, we aren't quite sure
what the definition of a corpus in Mukherjee's sense is, so ipso facto
we can't really disagree with him about it. And we don't believe we
have any real disagreement with him about theory or methodology in
corpus linguistics. We appear not to have been doing corpus
linguistics in his sense (despite the large amount of work we did, to
our great benefit, searching machine-readable bodies of text); we were
writing a non-statistically-oriented descriptive reference grammar
instead.

(8) EXTRAPOSITION. JM2 makes it clear that we are all very largely in
agreement about extraposition. H&P and JM2 concur that extraposition
constructions are much more common than the corresponding synonymous
clausal subject constructions, and that it is nonetheless the clausal
subject construction that represents canonical clause structure. JM2
does not appear to suggest that because extraposition is so frequent
it must be canonical, and we do not deny that the frequency difference
is a significant fact about performance, so there is no real dispute
here.

(9) VISUALS. On the point about the contrast in number visual aids,
we took the liberty of a little ad hominem dig in the ribs against
Mukherjee: we noted that as regards his preference for quantitative
methods, he talked the talk but (on this issue) failed to walk the
walk. We pointed out that a quick count of trees in the two books'
coordination chapters suggested that our book had more visual aids
than Quirk et al.'s, not less. Mukherjee has now clarified what he
meant. He decided to compare the chapters on the verb in Quirk et
al. and The Cambridge Grammar, and if not only trees but also all
pictorial tablular displays are counted, Quirk et al. come out top.

(For the one or two people who will want to actually check this, let
me note that JM2's "in section 3.4 no. 2" doesn't mean display [2] in
section 3.4 of Chapter 3; there isn't a section 3.4 in our Chapter 3.
He means "display [2] in major section 4 of Chapter 3".)

With the the details of the competition thus clarified, we cannot
disagree with him: Quirk et al. has 29 tables and 15 figures where The
Cambridge Grammar has 14 tables and 2 figures in its Chapter 3. In
general, our book has fewer impressionistic diagrams of relationships
and tends to give more tree diagrams of the structures of expressions
in typical chapters (59 separate trees divided between 40 tree
displays). Speaking for myself, I have never really liked the arrows
and boxes and braces and dots of Quirk et al.'s impressionistic
diagrams of meaning. For example, I don't understand Figure 4.51 on
their page 221 at all. But some people like these visuals, and
Mukherjee is evidently one. That's a matter of taste and cognitive
style. What we can all agree on is that The Cambridge Grammar doesn't
use such diagrams very much (there are some in Chapter 9, illustrating
points about negation, but very few).

(10) NEGATIVITY. Finally, JM2 complains that H&P concentrated
entirely on the negative points in Mukherjee's review of The Cambridge
Grammar. That is correct too. It is in the nature of brief responses
to criticism: time and space limitations mean that you gotta
accentuate the negative, eliminate the positive, and don't mess with
Mr. In-Between. We tackled just a half dozen points where we thought
that Mukherjee was making false claims about our book. Those points
are now largely cleared up. But Mukherjee's review made numerous
statements about The Cambridge Grammar in terms of high and unreserved
praise. Some are repeated in JM2. Let me repair an omission by
saying that we noted those generous and positive remarks, and I am
sure that all the collaborating authors of the book were flattered and
gratified to read them.

Geoffrey K. Pullum
(pullumling.ucsc.edu)
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue