LINGUIST List 3.546

Wed 01 Jul 1992

Disc: Innateness, Dissimilation Summary

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  1. Jacques Guy, Comparatives
  2. INMG000, 3.538 Innateness; Theories
  3. , dissimilation
  4. "Richard L. Goerwitz", Re: 3.537 Phonology

Message 1: Comparatives

Date: Wed, 1 Jul 92 08:02:14 ESTComparatives
From: Jacques Guy <>
Subject: Comparatives

About Allan Wechsler's sentence:

(1) I think this is rarer than Allan does.

Jason Johnston ( asks:

"Am I missing the joke, or is this a dialectal thing? To me the
sentence seems neither ungrammatical nor unacceptable, nor even
particularly infelicitous."

As I am not a native speaker of English, my reactions to that
sentence might be interesting.

At first, I thought "this is nonsense".

On second thought, "no, it must mean 'I think that this is rarer than
Allan thinks it is', but that is unacceptable (grammatically incorrect,
if you prefer)".

Finally, I found a meaning such that that sentence was grammatically
correct, to me at least: "I think this [steak] is rarer than Allan
does [cook them]".

Before you dismiss this as a bit of trivia, consider how my perception
of what is grammatically acceptable and unacceptable in English forced
an interpretation of that sentence which I suppose its author never had
in mind. Does that mean that a function of grammar is to disambiguate
utterances the meaning of which is not immediately graspable? I tend
to believe so.
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Message 2: 3.538 Innateness; Theories

Date: Tue, 30 Jun 92 09:51:33 ED3.538 Innateness; Theories
From: INMG000 <>
Subject: 3.538 Innateness; Theories

The innateness argument is surely not about WHETHER there are innate
properties of mind and brain but about WHAT these properties are.
This is an empirical question. I have reported evidence that there is a
gene that appears to have very specific effects on language(M.Gopnik,
Nature 344, 1990; M. Gopnik and M. Crago, Cognition, 1991). This empiri
cal evidence supports the hypothesis that language is composed of sub-
modules and that they are seperably impairable through a genetic route.
THis need not have been the case. It could have been the case that
"motherese" explained the everything-it could have been the case that
cognition accounted for everything (A. Gopnik and A. Meltzoff have shown
convincingly that certain aspects of semantics are tied to cognitive
development) but it is simply not the way the world is. Spending time
and energy arguing about which hypothesis is more likely,in the absenc
of data is not the best way toapproach the question. Though our prior
theories may color the way we look at the world, they need not blind us.
New knowledge and new theories do arise from time to time and people
have had their minds changed by them. I am at this very moment putting
together a conference which will bring together scientists from neurolo-
gy (J. Marshall and A. Galaburda) anthropology (P. Kay and M. Crago) in-
fant research (P. Kuhl and A. Meltzoff) linguistics (M. Gopnik and H.
Clahsen) language impairment (B. Tomblin and J. Johnston) and psychology
(S. Pinker and L. Petitto). If you want to find out about a broad range
of empirical evidence that is beginning to answer the WHAT question join
us at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver on the week-end of February
12th, 1993. M. Gopnik, McGill University.
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Message 3: dissimilation

Date: Tue, 30 Jun 1992 15:35:21 dissimilation
From: <>
Subject: dissimilation

A few months ago we (i.e. the author of these lines, Jennifer Cole and
Chuck Kisseberth) posted a message requesting information on dissimilation
processes. Dissimilation processes are not at all rare, as D. Stampe
reminds us. The great majority of these process affect adjacent segments.
Our true interest, however, was in finding solid cases of long distance
dissimilation which behave as productive phonological rules. We have
received information about some cases where there is dissimilation between
segments which are not physically adjacent to each other but only within
the syllable or some smaller unit (D. Stampe mentions the historical change
kisse[s] > kisse[z] "to prevent the vowel from being devoiced by the
flanking s's", among other cases) or between consonants which are in the
onset of adjacent syllables (an example would be Grassmann's Law in
Sanskrit. Another example, which we owe to Peter Svenonius, is /maka+k/
magak 'to give, past' in Nahuat). These cases can be reformulated as
respecting adjacency with some relaxation of this notion to include, e.g.,
syllable-adjacency. Across greater distances dissimilations would seem to
be sporadic changes but never (?) regular synchronic rules. A putative case
that has been much cited in recent years is Liquid dissimilation in Latin:
nav-alis, but milit-aris. However, Bernhard Hurch (1991) after examining
the primary sources has pointed out that "lateral dissimilation in Latin
was productive, at some stage, only in the onsets of adjacent syllables,
and that the productivity gradually decreases the more distant the
triggering /l/ is from the suffix." ("On adjacency and related concepts" in
Certamen Phonologicum II). Luis Michelena (Fonetica Historica Vasca,
1985:211-212) remarks that in Basque there can be at most one aspirated
segment within a word, which causes dissimilation in compounds; e.g. hil
'dead' + herri 'town' -> ilherri 'cemetery'. There are however some
exceptions. Another possible example of a long-distance coocurrence
constraint, which A. Carstairs-McCarthy mentions to us, is that in
Proto-Indo-European no root could contain more than one voiced stop. It
this is so, it could be the result of a dissimilation rule applying within
the root in Pre-Proto-Indo-European (our speculation). Unless I have
overlooked something, we have not received any examples of true
long-distance dissimilations of the type that /milit-alis/-> [militaris]
would exemplify were this a regular synchronic rule; that is, between
segments which are not in adjacent syllables.

We want to thank the following people:

John Kingston, Patrick McConvell, Chris Culy, David G. Nash, David Stampe,
Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy, Ed Burstynsky,, John
S. Coleman, Ellen Kaisse, Chilin Shih, Peter Svenonius, Janet Bing.

The following references have been mentioned to us:

Carstairs-McCarthy, Andrew (1992) Current Morphology. Routledge.

Donegan, Patricia. 1978. On the natural phonology of vowels. PhD diss.,
Ohio State Univ. Reprinted New York: Garland Press 1986.

Doke, C.M. Textbook of Zulu Grammar.

Egner, Inge (1989) Precis de grammaire wobe. Annales de Linguistique XV

Kaisse, Ellen (to appear) "Rule reordering and rule generalization in
Lexical Phonology: A reconsideration." In Hargus, S and E. Kaisse, Studies
in Lexical Phonology. Academic Press.

McConvell, Patrick (1988) "Nasal cluster dissimilatioj and constraints on
phonological variables in Gurindji and related languages." Aboriginal
Linguistics 1.

Magnusson (1967) in Linguistics 34:17-25.

Rialland, Annie and Mamadou Badjime (1989) "Reanalyse des tons du bambara:
des tons du nom a l'organisation generale du systeme." Studies in African
Linguistics 20: 1-27.

Jose Ignacio Hualde
Spanish, Italian & Portuguese
4080 Foreign Languages Building
244-4090 or
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Message 4: Re: 3.537 Phonology

Date: Fri, 26 Jun 92 11:57:05 CDRe: 3.537 Phonology
From: "Richard L. Goerwitz" <>
Subject: Re: 3.537 Phonology

John Coleman writes:

	>>Some time ago I
	>>invited Natural Phonologists to substantiate the claim by giving
	>>an example of some phonological phenomenon which has not also been
	>>addressed within some other un-Natural phonological theory. So far
	>>I have not been informed of such a case. Maybe there is such a case,
	>>if so, let's all hear about it.

Don't be so coy! If you have read the natural phonological literature, pre-
sumably you understand its claims (and the data it purports to explain). If
you are disenchanted, please tell us where these claims err. Where is it you
feel natural phonologists are claiming uniquely elegant solutions that are in
fact neither unique nor elegant?

It's hardly surprising to me that nobody's responded to your challenge. You
are essentially inviting your distinguished colleagues to post justifications
of their positions so you can review them. Perhaps it's just me, but this
seems a rather presumptuous way of handling the matter.

-Richard Goerwitz
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