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LINGUIST List 16.1472

Mon May 09 2005

Disc: Re: A Challenge to the Minimalist Community

Editor for this issue: Michael Appleby <michaellinguistlist.org>

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        1.    Marc Hamann, Re: A Challenge to the Minimalist Community

Message 1: Re: A Challenge to the Minimalist Community
Date: 09-May-2005
From: Marc Hamann <marchamann.ca>
Subject: Re: A Challenge to the Minimalist Community

A number of people have responded to Sproat and Lappin's challenge
with the objection that P & P has as its object of study the human
language faculty in its full generality, and that it is therefore
unreasonable to expect it to do well or for it to be relevant on a
small, particular subset of language phenomena as represented by a

Unfortunately this is a rather peculiar notion of what it means to be
"more general" or "most general". Generality of a theory is usually a
claim that you can handle or explain ALL possible instances of the
phenomenon you cover. It is surely MUCH easier to show that you can
handle one such instance, especially the somewhat restricted instance
represented by a limited corpus.

The utility of this exercise is as a verification on the logical
consistency of (at least a fragment of) the theory, since the ruthless
logicality of computation admits no hand-waving or inadvertent
shell-games with claims.

A theory that has not been formally verified against SOME instances of
its phenomena of study certainly cannot claim generality; it can't
even claim adequacy, since it has never been tested.

On the issue of tractability as raised by Sean Fulop, I agree that
expecting the general case for P&P to be tractable may be expecting
too much. However, it is reasonable to expect a LIMITED, SPECIFIC
case to be tractable. (After all, people do learn particular
languages; there must be some kind of tractability of that case (pace
Penrose) ).

And even if there were no such tractable computational solution, I
would accept as a substitute (and Sproat and Lappin may do so too) a
formal verification by proof that P & P accounted for a formally
described equivalent of a corpus. (Proofs not being limited by actual
computability. This is the standard expected of relativity regardless
of its applicability to ballistics. )

And if you don't like that one either, I'm interested to know what
WOULD constitute an acceptable verification for the P & P community
that their theory had adequacy for a given instance of expression of
the human language faculty? And if you won't accept the need for
verification in individual cases, how would you go about showing
adequacy for the full GENERAL case?

Marc Hamann

Linguistic Field(s): Computational Linguistics
Discipline of Linguistics

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