LINGUIST List 3.266

Thu 19 Mar 1992

Disc: The Reality of Rules (Part 2)

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  1. Rick Wojcik, Re: 3.261 Reality of Rules
  2. , Re: 3.261 Reality of Rules
  3. "Randy J. LaPolla", Re: 3.261 Reality of Rules
  4. Martti Arnold Nyman, Rules and ontology
  5. AHARRIS - Alan Harris, RE: 3.262 Text, Idioms, OVS

Message 1: Re: 3.261 Reality of Rules

Date: Wed, 18 Mar 92 15:31:57 PSRe: 3.261 Reality of Rules
From: Rick Wojcik <>
Subject: Re: 3.261 Reality of Rules

Ellen Prince: uh, where exactly *are* these grammars, if not in people's

John Coleman: In the Platonic World of Ideals, of course, along with pi, the
 square root of 2, etc.

Penni Sibun: well, grammars are indubitably in *some* people's
 heads/brains/minds---the heads/brains/minds of linguists. it's
 far less clear whether they are in those of people in general.

Linguistic descriptions of grammars are always idealizations, but they idealize
something that directly affects behavior. Since the brain is what controls
behavior (well, I'm making an assumption here :-), linguistic rules have
to correspond to something in the brain.

The only sense I can make out of the position that linguistic rules have no
psychological reality is that its proponents take every grammatical utterance
to be a case of incredible luck for the speaker.

			-Rick Wojcik (
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Message 2: Re: 3.261 Reality of Rules

Date: Thu, 19 Mar 1992 10:05 EETRe: 3.261 Reality of Rules
Subject: Re: 3.261 Reality of Rules

I fail to see why rules that are based on the linguistic analysis
should be 'psychologically real' in the sense of production rules.
Patterns and regularities in verbal utterances are certainly obvious -
they are 'real for the linguist' but it is simply not justified to
equal these findings with the processes people speak by, for example.
It seems we know remarkably little about these 'really psychologically
real' rules of the speakers still, and that the evidence for the psycho-
logical reality (such as slips of the tongue) has been used in a manner
which is so paradigm bound that it can be used to show the psychological
reality of any linguistic concept you care to choose.
Hannele Dufva
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Message 3: Re: 3.261 Reality of Rules

Date: Thu, 19 Mar 92 16:14 U
From: "Randy J. LaPolla" <HSLAPOLLAtwnas886.BITNET>
Subject: Re: 3.261 Reality of Rules

>From: Stavros Macrakis <>
>Subject: 3.250 Psychological reality of rules
>Herb Simon had some interesting remarks about inferring mechanism >
>from regularity in an essay in his collection "The Sciences of the
>Artificial". His point was that we often learn more about the
>mechanism at its limits, where the regularity breaks down, than in the
>regular part of its behavior.

This seems to have been something like the motivation behind some of Chuck
Fillmore's work on idiomatic constructions (so-called 'peripheral'
constructions), such as in Fillmore, Kay and O'Connor's (1988-Language 64.3)
paper on 'let alone': if you can handle the more difficult 'periphery', then the
mechanisms you've developed to do that will also be able to handle the 'core',
but the opposite is not true.

Randy LaPolla
Institute of History & Philology
Academia Sinica, Taiwan
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Message 4: Rules and ontology

Date: Thu, 19 Mar 1992 13:01 EETRules and ontology
From: Martti Arnold Nyman <MANYMANFINUHA.bitnet>
Subject: Rules and ontology

Ralph Fasold (3-239) raised an important ontological question:
"Is psychological reality the only reality to be contemplated?"
This question prompted a quick response echoing
Chomskyan naturalism: "uh, where exactly *are* these grammars,
if not in people's brains?"; Ellen Prince, 3-250). This, in
turn, has so far prompted two comments (in 3-261): one
sarcastic (Penni Shibun), one Platonist (John Coleman).
Platonist ontology has been elaborated by Jerrold Katz
(Language and Other Abstract Objects. Oxford: Blackwell 1981).
Platonist ontology is right insofar as it places language in
the Popperian World-3; but it's unsatisfactory to characterize
language as a mathematical object. (Notice that I'm speaking
of language, not of grammar.) Unlike mathematical entities,
languages are subject to constant (regional, social,
stylistic) variation and constant change. The variability and
changeability of language results from human collective
activity, and so it's proper to characterize language as a
social entity. This was Ferdinand de Saussure's point
("langue" as "fait social"), and this I think is what Fasold's
posting comes down to: "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".
 The above quote echoes William Labov's claim that the
grammar of a speech community is more regular and systematic
than the behaviour of any one individual. This is acceptable
on the condition that "the grammar of a speech community" is
construed in terms of Popperian objective knowledge, ie.
knowledge without a physical (World-1) or psychological
(World-2) knower. A knower there certainly is, but it -- this
is a particularly felicitous context to avoid sexistic
vocabulary :-) -- lives in the Popperian World-3. Chomsky
christened it the ideal speaker-listener.
 What makes the psychological reality issue a tricky one is
that the Chomskyans preach individual psychology but practice
autonomous linguistics. Both are worth while enterprises but
they can't be done at once: you can't do individual psychology
by investigating a generalized individual (ie. an ideal
speaker). I think Dave Eddington (3-250) describes the
situation quite well. (I'd like to quote his posting on this
matter, but this would make my message too long.)
 Language qua object of intersubjective knowledge is
logically dependent on the speakers, but no single individual
can change or invent a language (except for a private
language, of course). Nor does a single individual acquire a
perfect mastering of his/her language (for that we need the
ideal speaker).
 Psychological reality makes sense only under an individual
psychological interpretation. I'm no psycholinguist, and so I
don't know how to test the psychological reality of a rule,
ie. whether the speaker has made the same generalization as
the linguist. What does Spanish _posters_ (instead of
*_posteres_) tell us about the psychological reality of the
pluralization rule "add _-es_ to stems ending in a consonant,
except s-stems". Is _posters_ a counter-evidence? At least,
I'm inclined to think that *_posteres_ would be a piece of
"external" evidence in favour of the _-es_ pluralization rule.
But as Alexis Manaster Ramer (3-235) points out, we are
basically dealing with analogies. Maybe it's time to
rehabilitate Analogy.
 Martti Nyman, Department of General Linguistics,
 University of Helsinki, Finland
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Message 5: RE: 3.262 Text, Idioms, OVS

Date: Thu, 19 Mar 1992 09:51:00 RE: 3.262 Text, Idioms, OVS
From: AHARRIS - Alan Harris <vcspc005VAX.CSUN.EDU>
Subject: RE: 3.262 Text, Idioms, OVS

I ahve been reading along and trying to understand what lies behind some of
the reasoning regarding the "existence of rules." At the risk of sounding
naive or voicing something that is probably trivial, I must say that just
because we have no adequate way or expressing the "rules" or systems of rules
that "exist" in the mind (whatever that is or how it may be construed)--and we
may never have an adequate way-- is no reason to suspect that the rules do not
exist. What could one suggest is there if not some highly organized system or
at least what seems to be the product of mind is some entirely complex
organization? It ain't random, is it? I would like to see some discussion of
the alternative before we hash the notion of innate grammar. . .

Alan C. Harris, Ph. D. telno: off:
Professor, Communication/Linguistics 818-885-2853/2874
Speech Communication Department hm:
California State University, Northridge 818-780-8872
SPCH CSUN fax: 818-885-2663
Northridge, CA 91330
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