LINGUIST List 2.126

Tuesday, 9 Apr 1991

Disc: Functionalism, MT

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  1. R.Hudson, functionalism versus formalism
  2. Vicki Fromkin, Re: Functionalism and MT
  3. , Re: formal and functional

Message 1: functionalism versus formalism

Date: Mon, 08 Apr 91 10:00:15 +0100
From: R.Hudson <uclyrah%uk.ac.uclpucc.PRINCETON.EDU>
Subject: functionalism versus formalism
Fritz Newmeyer writes:

[regarding] Subjacency, etc. Why do they exist? In fact I am perfectly
happy to posit a `functional' genesis for them: I assume that they arose
to facilitate parsing. ... But over time they have become so thoroughly
grammaticized that their relation to parsing is indirect at best. .. This
grammaticization was driven by what I see as an innate human drive to impose
structure and to maximize and extend structural patterning (and thereby to
wrench form away from function).'

This looks fine to me, but it makes the difference between formalism and
functionalism seem rather small, given that plenty of functionalists would
probably go along with it too. But are we to understand Fritz as having
abandoned the idea that Subjacency etc are innate? All that's innate in
his account is the human drive to impose structure etc. If so, I am delighted
to hear it.

I think Robert Van Valin has said all that needs to be said about this
debate - we're using these slogans as ways of protecting ourselves against
each other. It's possible to admire both types of work - and to learn a
lot from both.



Dick Hudson
Dept of Phonetics and Linguistics,
University College London,
Gower Street,
London WC1E 6BT
(071) 387 7050 ext 3152
home: (081) 340 1253
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Message 2: Re: Functionalism and MT

Date: Mon, 08 Apr 91 12:27 PDT
From: Vicki Fromkin <IYO1VAF%MVS.OAC.UCLA.EDUCORNELLC.cit.cornell.edu>
Subject: Re: Functionalism and MT
TO: Yorick W.
FROM: Vicki Fromkin

I really haven't been asleep. Did you read my followup to the first
misunderstanding of what I wrote about MT? I was referring to the
'good old days' when everyone thought it was an easy task because
they did not understand the complexities of language. My plea was for
engineers and linguists (and AI people and computer scientists and
psychologists etc etc etc) to work together and learn from each other
and my remarks were in answer to those who believed non-linguists know
more about language than linguists. Sorry about all this confusion.
VAF
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Message 3: Re: formal and functional

Date: Mon, 8 Apr 91 17:03:55 PDT
From: <rwojcikatc.boeing.com>
Subject: Re: formal and functional
Fritz Newmeyer replies to Scott Delancey:

> ...Of course we all agree that 
> languages have structure. The question is whether grammars are 
> STRUCTURAL SYSTEMS, with their own internal principles shaping 
> them. This I take to be the main issue separating generative 
> grammar from the wing of functionalism that Delancey represents.

But this does not help very much. Fritz has just shifted the debate to the
question of what excludes functionalist approaches to structure from being
called 'structural systems'. I haven't got a clue as to what the answer is.

> Among such principles, I have in mind, of course, Subjacency, the 
> ECP, Binding, the Case Filter, and so on. Why do they exist? In fact, I 
> am perfectly happy to posit a 'functional' genesis for them: I assume 
> that they arose to facilitate parsing. In effect, they help keep track 
> of what's what and what's where. But over time, they have become so 
> thoroughly grammaticized that their relation to parsing is indirect 
> at best. (I.e. many if not most ECP violations pose no particular 
> parsing problems.)...

I had trouble with this passage until I came to realize that Fritz probably
meant the 'comprehend' sense of 'parse' here. Personally, I think that too
many linguists get their foot stuck in the comprehension bucket when they
talk about linguistic performance. The fact is that the 'grammar' plays a 
direct role in language production. It has to. How would anyone know how to
construct a grammatical sentence if it didn't? Since people can't control the
form of the language that they process, a rather rigid use of grammatical
filters on comprehension would be impractical. So you need to look at 
grammatical form not just in how it facilitates comprehension (parsing), but
how it facilitates production. And those grammatical principles that Fritz
cites, to the extent that they really exist as unitary phenomena, must play
a very direct role in instructing us how to use pronouns, prepositions, and
other grammatical structures. Not all functionalist explanations have to be
grounded in comprehension issues alone.

 -Rick Wojcik
[End Linguist List, Vol. 2, No. 126]
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