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LINGUIST List 17.2304

Fri Aug 11 2006

Disc: Re: 17.2277: Disc: Modern Syntactic Theory

Editor for this issue: Ann Sawyer <sawyerlinguistlist.org>

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        1.    Martin Haspelmath, Major Discoveries of Modern Syntactic Theory

Message 1: Major Discoveries of Modern Syntactic Theory
Date: 11-Aug-2006
From: Martin Haspelmath <haspelmatheva.mpg.de>
Subject: Major Discoveries of Modern Syntactic Theory

In my view, the major discovery of post-1957 ''syntactic theory'' is not 
''theoretical'', but methodological: That a huge amount of generalizations
can best be found by adopting an ''experimental'' approach. In the 19th
century and the first half of the 20th, syntacticians almost exclusively
worked with corpora, and thus were limited to an ''observational''
approach. But just as morphological description requires elicitation to get
complete paradigms (in many languages), so does syntactic description, to
get the full richness of the ''syntactic paradigms'' (in all languages).

(Let us hope that this lesson will not be forgotten, now that corpus-based
approaches are becoming more prominent again, for good reasons having to do
with technological innovations.)

In addition to this methodological discovery, there were many claims about
''theories'', ''principles'', ''architectures'', and so on, but these have
always been largely speculative, and unlikely to stand the test of time.

What remains of the published body of research is the empirical part. So
all the papers that are neatly divided into a ''data/generalizations'' part
and an ''analysis'' part have a good chance of continuting to be useful:
Future linguists can read the first part and stop reading where the
analysis begins.

Martin Haspelmath

(P.S. It's odd to say that ''modern syntax'' started with Saussure, as does
Everett, because Saussure did not really work on syntax. I think it's
fairer to say that it started with Delbrück's comparative Indo-European
syntax, although this was pre-structuralist.)

Linguistic Field(s): Syntax

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