LINGUIST List 13.563

Fri Mar 1 2002

Disc: Review of Black, Quiegolani Zapotec Syntax

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  1. Andrew Carnie, Review of Black, Quiegolani Zapotec Syntax

Message 1: Review of Black, Quiegolani Zapotec Syntax

Date: Fri, 1 Mar 2002 02:13:48 -0500 (EST)
From: Andrew Carnie <carnielinguistlist.org>
Subject: Review of Black, Quiegolani Zapotec Syntax

In LINGUIST 13.559, Martin Haspelmath criticizes my review of Cheryl Black's
excellent work on Quiegolani Zapotec Syntax, for my sole criticism
that the book seemed out of date. I think it is a shame that this subsequent
discussion focusses on the one negative thing I had to say about
the book, especially since the criticism was relatively minor. By
exchanging over the topic we are taking away from the strong merits of
Black's work. Nevertheless, I feel I must respond, since (1) Haspelmath
misrepresents & misundertands what I said and (2) I feel the criticism,
although minor, is still valid.

Haspelmath quotes one part of my review, and then attacks it. (For reasons of
space, I have slightly edited Haspelmath's response, see the original
posting for the missing portions):
>
AC> 	"I have a great deal of respect for the work presented
AC> 	in this dissertation; it is thorough, interesting,
AC> 	readable, informed, and informative, but I do have one
AC> 	serious criticism of the work, as a recently published
AC> 	research monograph. As alluded to above, this book is the
AC> 	published version of Black's dissertation, written in 1994.
AC> 	The theoretical approach Black adopts was dated even when
AC> 	the manuscript was first written. Now, with a publication
AC> 	half a decade later, the theoretical content of the book
AC> 	seems very out of date."

MH>	Now this would be a just accusation if it were beyond dispute that the
MH> 	theoretical devices of the late 90s (or early 00s) are clearly superior
MH> 	to the theoretical devices of the late 80s (or early 90s).
...
MH> But surely not even Chomsky's most ardent supporters would claim that it
MH> 	has been cogently argued that the Principles & Parameters framework of
MH> 	the early 1990s must be replaced by a minimalist theory (in fact, often
MH> 	the term "minimalist program" is used to emphasize the preliminary
MH> 	nature of these proposals).
...
MH> There are even many respected linguists who
MH> 	prefer a theoretical approach that is totally different from both of
MH> 	these. So using normal scientific standards, it is a perfectly
MH> 	legitimate position to regard the P&P framework of the early 1990s as
MH> 	the best currently available theoretical framework.

I agree, I never claimed that it wasn't, nor did I ever claim that MP
was superior (and more importantly, the book under discussion takes NO
position on which variety of P&P is better; it simply assumes GB).
In fact, my review was full of praises for the internal structure of
the GB style analysis found in Black's book. Indeed, I think Black's book
is particularly meritorious for the theoretical treatment she gives in
a descriptive work of a language that has rarely been treated in this
tradition. This was not my criticism. In fact, if we look at
the continuation of the paragraph that Haspelmath partially quotes, we
see that I point out the empirical *superiority* of the approach Black
adopts. Here is the rest of the paragraph in full:

AC> "... This does not mean that the
AC> material is not still of theoretical interest, but merely
AC> that the theoretical devices Black introduces are of much
AC> less use. I really wish she had taken the time to at least
AC> acknowledge that between 1994 and 2000 some significant
AC> work on the topics had occurred, even if this was in the
AC> form of footnotes or an "update" chapter. Nonetheless, some
AC> of the issues she raises, e.g. the need to parameterize the
AC> Wh-criterion, still require significant research to account
AC> for in the minimalist approach. Similarly the binding facts
AC> in chapter 4 are a challenge to all the approaches to
AC> binding that I am familiar with. Indeed the empirical
AC> content of Black's work stands up to the test of time, and
AC> therein lies the strength of this work: it is an empirical
AC> treasure trove written by someone with a theoretically
AC> sophisticated eye."

As should be clear from the above, I'm actually pointing out that
minimalist approaches are challenged by the empirical coverage of the
older view as espoused in Black's book.

MH> 	Of course everybody knows that fashion plays a big role in linguistics,
MH> 	and since linguistics is done by human beings, it could hardly be
MH> 	otherwise. So the P&P framework of the early 90s is no longer
MH> 	fashionable today, and everybody knows that if we want to be respected
MH> 	by our colleagues, get jobs, etc., we had better "keep up" and go along
MH> 	with the fashion. But that is only to the extent that non-scientific
MH> 	criteria enter into evaluating what people do. When somebody publishes a
MH> 	book review (in a conventional journal or on LINGUIST), I expect that
MH> 	the book will be judged on purely scientific merits.

This is where Haspelmath has missed the point of what I was
saying. I praised the scientific merits of the book. Nonetheless, I
criticize the *scholarly* merits of ignoring a decade's worth of research
within the paradigm that the book written in. To be entirely fair to be
Black, this book is a publication of her early 90s dissertation,
and it is understandable that the work stand in representation to the
original research she did at that time. Nonetheless,
I feel the editors of the series, or the author could
have provided a superior work, had it included the occasional mention of
work since 1994. Indeed, in a part of the review not quoted by Haspalmath,
I suggested that a few footnotes pointing to work in the 1994-2000 period
would suffice for "updating" the work, without damaging it's theory
internal coherence. Here are my exact words:

AC> "I really wish she had taken the time to at least
AC> acknowledge that between 1994 and 2000 some significant
AC> work on the topics had occurred, even if this was in the
AC> form of footnotes or an "update" chapter."

In many of the recently published, but older, dissertations that I've read
this is common practice. Omitting it is a flaw in my opinion -- one which
 in this case is heavily outweighed by the substantive part of the book --
but a flaw nonetheless.

I'm not criticizing Black for being out of fashion,
but merely for not referring, even obliquely, to work published before
her 2000 publication date. Anyone who has ever seen how I dress would
know that I am no slave to fashion! In fact, the introduction to my review
contains a criticism (admittedly oblique) to the quality of some recent
 theoretical work done within the MP:

AC> "...Those of us who like to do both; that is like to see our
AC> theories motivated and empirically grounded in languages
AC> yet at the same time see our descriptions of language
AC> theoretically informed, are often disappointed by the
AC> selection of books available today. I often find that
AC> descriptive grammars don't contain the information I want
AC>to know, whereas strictly theoretical works leave me pining
AC> for some descriptive content. Cheryl Black's book on
AC>Quiegolani Zapotec (henceforth QZ) syntax is a pleasing
AC> exception to this trend."

MH> 	If Andrew Carnie had pinpointed a particular point in Black's book that
MH> 	would have profited from a Minimalist perspective, then the criticism
MH> 	would have been justified. If there is something specific that
MH> 	Minimalism does better, then an author of a 2000 book can be rightly
MH> 	accused of ignoring a significant idea that was out there before 2000
MH> 	and should have been mentioned. But Carnie does not mention any
MH> 	particular point where Minimalism would be superior.
...

Besides missing the point, this claim is simply false.
I mention at least one such case: the treatment of
copular and nominal adjective orders. I could have mentioned others,
(replacing the wh-criterion with full interpretation, discussion of
question particle/wh-word ordering in light of McCloskey's recent work,
etc. etc.) but I felt that this put too negative a spin on a book I
highly regard. I also don't make explicit the fact that the analysis of
the licensing of focus phrases in terms of government is easily translatable
into licensing in terms of the more general tool of local specifier/head
feature checking, but this is obvious to anyone working in the minimalist
program. But this is irrelevant. Returning to the point at hand,
my criticism was not that Minimalism is superior -- as I have already
pointed out, I credit the book for a "sophisticated analysis" material that
is decidedly easier to deal with in GB. Instead I merely claim that
books published in 2000 have the responsibility to acknowledge that
some work in the domain of inquiry has been done since 1994.

> 	...the older ideas that they are supposed to replace. So please don't
> 	criticize a theoretical work for being "out of date".

I find this statement very ironic, especially coming from a scholar who
has been critical of Chomskyan syntax for its failures to cite all the
relevant literature outside its own hegemony. Why shouldn't we expect
publishers to demand of authors that they report on all the
relevant literature *within* the theoretical paradigm that they are working
on? It would not be hard to add a few paranthetical "(For a more recent
treatment of such phenomena in Basque, see XX 1999)", which would be
 the responsible and scientific thing to do when publishing a work
that was written 6 or more years previous to the actual publication,
while maintaining the internal coherence of the work. While it is
reasonable to be expect that published books will have a lag of a year or more
from the time of submission to the actual appearance on bookstore shelves and
thus lack some recent references, I don't believe that six years is a
reasonable gap in the citations.

Finally, I would like to point out, that I don't think it is at all
inappropriate to point out in a review of a book, whose subtitle is
"A Principles and Parameters Account", that the set of the assumptions
used by the author, while internally consistent and perhaps even
empirically better motivated, are *not* the set of assumptions used
by the vast majority of researchers who currently work in P&P.

(It is an entirely different question, one which is *not* appropriate
in this response or review, as to whether conceptual grounds are sufficient
to abandon empirically motivated assumptions -- I leave that as a question
for Chomsky and other philosophers of linguistics to fight about. For more
on this question see the recent debate between Johnson et al. and a variety
MP devotees in the two most recent issues of Natural Language and Linguistic
Theory).

Unfortunately, as I had mentioned above, I fear that this discussion has
focussed entirely the wrong lens on Black's work. Black's careful and
interesting work on Quiegolani Zapotec is of a very high calibre and
well argued. It remains, in my opinion and despite my small criticism,
a tour de force in both description and theoretical account. My apologies
to Dr. Black that my minor criticism should be blown so out of proportion in
a discussion on the LINGUIST list.

Andrew Carnie



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