LINGUIST List 4.34

Fri 22 Jan 1993

Disc: Functionalism and Generative Grammar

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  1. Jay Lemke, Functionalism, generative grammar, etc.

Message 1: Functionalism, generative grammar, etc.

Date: Tue, 19 Jan 93 22:51:48 ESFunctionalism, generative grammar, etc.
From: Jay Lemke <JLLBCCUNYVM.bitnet>
Subject: Functionalism, generative grammar, etc.

Isn't the strong innateness hypothesis a barrier to closer col-
laboration (which I agree would be valuable) between
functionalist and TG-GB-UG approaches? Innateness theses are a
sort of substitute for functionalist appeals to extra-linguistic,
or at least extra-grammatical, patterns of use and functionality.
What is innate is selected for, also by functional criteria, but
by much more general (some would suspect TOO general) and long-
term ones. By stressing universals, such approaches close them-
selves off not only from matters of performance (which is to say
language in use -- discourse, communication, rhetoric) but also
from matters of language diversity and language change.

The arena in which these diverging interests in language may meet
(whether we like it or not) is semantics. There cannot be an ade-
quate purely formal theory of semantics, since meaning is
ultimately some sort of abstraction of patterns of situated use
of forms (and not merely strings of sign-tokens). And it does
look like the constantly growing role of the lexicon and its
projections of theta roles, semantic subcategorizations, and pos-
sibly logical forms even in grammars that have sought to avoid
semantics like the plague, means that formalist grammars have
reached the degree of detail in the analysis of forms where ques-
tions of meaning can no longer be avoided. That is surely a sign
of progress for the formal program.

Is it time perhaps for some of us to look to functionalist models
of meaning in grammar for the source of specific constraints on
possible forms, and for others to adopt rich models of formal
grammars for the output of functional choices? And if we do, will
we want to salve our consciences by finding some philosophical
rapprochement between evolved innateness and learned
functionality? After all, biologists do it every day.

PS. Michael Gregory in Toronto is working on just such a
synthesis of MIT formalism and British functionalism. I wonder if
others are also? Computationalists would have good reason to.

City University of New York.
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