LINGUIST List 3.250

Mon 16 Mar 1992

Disc: Rules

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. "Ellen F. Prince", Re: 3.239 Natural Language, E-Prime, Rules
  2. AVERY D ANDREWS, rules
  3. Dave Eddington, Psychological reality
  4. , Reality and rules

Message 1: Re: 3.239 Natural Language, E-Prime, Rules

Date: Wed, 11 Mar 92 11:01:33 ESRe: 3.239 Natural Language, E-Prime, Rules
From: "Ellen F. Prince" <>
Subject: Re: 3.239 Natural Language, E-Prime, Rules

>Subject: Re: 3.235 The Psychological Reality of Rules
>Is psychological reality the only reality to be contemplated? I think it is
>entirely possible that linguistic grammars might be much more elegant than
>whatever goes on in human brains when people talk to each other.
>Ralph Fasold

uh, where exactly *are* these grammars, if not in people's brains?
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Message 2: rules

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 1992 11:08:35 rules
Subject: rules

An important point about the reality of rules that is often missed,
I think, is that the regularities they systematize are actually there,
and deserve some kind of explanation. Sometimes the explanation
may be historical, but very often this is not a serious option, and
some kind of psychological reality is the only plausible one
(my favorite candidate is the Peacocke-Davies conception of
`psychological reality at level 1.5).
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Message 3: Psychological reality

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 92 16:34:45 -0Psychological reality
From: Dave Eddington <>
Subject: Psychological reality

What exactly does it mean to say that a given analysis is
'psychologically real?' A lot can be learned by examining how
linguists do linguistic analyses.

When confronted with alternations in a corpus of linguistic
information, a linguist attempts to account for them in the most
succinct, general, and elegant way, in accordance with the
constraints of the particular linguistic theory which happens to be
in vogue at the moment. I believe that there is a lot to be gained
from such an analysis. It provides a very explicit description of
the alternations.

The issue of psychological reality comes in only when, as is most
often the case in contemporary linguistic analyses, it is claimed
that the rules that the linguist has invented correspond in some
way to the way that real speakers comprehend and produce language.
Therefore, a rule is psychologically valid to the extent that it
describes a process that plays a part in a speakers comprehension
or production of language.

Often, linguists will use circular reasoning when asked what
evidence they have that their analysis is psychologically valid:

A- There exists an alternation between X and Y. The alternation
 is regularly conditioned, therefore speakers must have
 captured the alternation as a rule.

B- How do you know that the rule is psychologically real?

A- Look at the data! The alternation is there and it's regular!

The above argument is nothing more than a restatement of the
following quote by Chomsky:

"Challenged to show that the constructions postulated in the theory
have 'psychological reality,' we can do no more than repeat the
evidence and the proposed explanations that involve these
constructions or . . . we can search for more conclusive
evidence . . . " 1980. Rules and Representations. 191.

I heartily agree that more searching needs to be done for more
conclusive evidence, yet most of the work in the field continues to
be based on a corpus of utterances (with occasional,
methodologically unsound, probes into native speakers' judgements).
The call for more conclusive evidence is often repeated, but seldom

A researcher who is truly interested in the psychological validity
of rules, and who believes that linguistics should be a branch of
cognitive psychology , should be willing to approach linguistics as
cognitive psychologists approach their field, that is by following
the scientific method. A wealth of literature exists which
demonstrates that the majority of what is done in the name of
'empirical linguistics' is not empirical at all but rather should
be categorized along with the non-empirical sciences such as formal
logic (see Derwing, Botha, Linell, Itkonen, Skousen).

David Eddington
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Message 4: Reality and rules

Date: Fri, 13 Mar 92 18:38:58 GMReality and rules
From: <>
Subject: Reality and rules

I should like to comment again on Jon Aske's very useful reminder of our basic
need to establish the nature of linguistic rules. They could not be "real" in
the sense of being open to representation in neurological terms. If that
were so, then our science would be concerned with the brain and not with the
 The "reality" of a linguistic model surely lies outside the physical. For
instance, phonology will always be more central to our study than phonetics.
 It is no refutation of the metatheoretical value of the black box model
that Charles Laughlin could regret(?) that 'there is no LAD in the brain'.
If there were, we would be turning our theoretical questioning elsewhere.
LAD is "in" the mind.
 What has always been at fault with our modelling of the human use of language
is the homogeneity which comes from a too early and all too pervasive demand of
idealization in what must be at least a bifurcal model. What is the
model-theoretic status of polysemy or homonymy? And how unitary can a model be
which will represent BOTH phatic communion AND advertising copy-writing? And
are we always to regard speakers of English in the Ozarks who say 'for to'
or those in "Fleet Street"who write 'whom it is believed' as outside the scope
of our model and devoid of regularity? Bill Bennett.
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