LINGUIST List 2.153

Monday, 22 Apr 1991

Disc: Functional Linguistics

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  1. Vicki Fromkin, Re: Responses
  2. , Formal vs. functional

Message 1: Re: Responses

Date: Fri, 19 Apr 91 15:34 PDT
From: Vicki Fromkin <>
Subject: Re: Responses
TO: Fehn - re formal/functional linguistics. Thank you for your
intelligent comment. Wht we don't need in linguistics or anywhere else
is a dogmatic, doctrinaire, mind-censorship approach. Thank you for
stating this. VAF
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Message 2: Formal vs. functional

Date: Sat, 20 Apr 91 00:30:30 EDT
From: <>
Subject: Formal vs. functional
It has occurred to me that part of the reason why this issue
refuses to go away may have to do with confusion about what
formal means. As Chomsky pointed out in LSLT, for example,
formal can either refer to form (as opposed to meaning or
function) or to formality (as opposed to informality).
Now, in most if not all of the contributions to this discussion
that did not particularly approve of functional approaches to
linguistics, it seemed as though functionalists were being
criticized for being informal AS WELL AS for not studying (only)
forms. Now, the former strikes me as a reasonable criticism,
PROVIDED that someone has an alternative that IS formal. But,
as many people have long observed, virtually all of formal
(i.e., form-oriented) linguistic work is very far indeed from
being formal and has been getting further and further away
in recent years. On the other hand, the question of whether
certain phenomena of language are to be explained in terms of
form or in terms of meaning, function, or what have you, strikes
me as ultimately factual and no opprobrium should attach to
anyone taking one or the other hypothesis as the more reasonable
WORKING HYPOTHESIS. But at the same time, it seems to me that
there has been very little in the way of careful examination
of the relevant data, but what there is seems to me to argue
AGAINST the form-based theories. In any event, I do believe
that the ambiguity in the word 'formal' is a serious problem that
we should try to remedy, preferably by replacing it by TWO
nonconfusable terms. For formal as in formality, I would
suggest rigorous (since formalization in the most technical
sense is rarely what is at issue anyhow but rigor most
definitely is). For formal as in form, however, I am at a loss
what to suggest...

further clarification if this is what Miner means by "nonlexical tone".

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