LINGUIST List 4.472

Wed 16 Jun 1993

Disc: GB

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Anjum Saleemi, Re: 4.458 GB
  2. Maria Polinsky, non-GB vs. GB
  3. Vicki Fromkin, Re: 4.458 GB
  4. John S. Coleman, 4.458 GB

Message 1: Re: 4.458 GB

Date: Wed, 16 Jun 93 15:43:07 SSRe: 4.458 GB
From: Anjum Saleemi <ELLAPSNUSVM.bitnet>
Subject: Re: 4.458 GB

I agree with Dick Hudson that c30 years is not a long time. It is probably
going to take much longer to reach the stage where "fine-tuning" would become
possible. Meanwhile, I don't see why it should matter so much to someone like
Hudson why he isn't counted as a syntactician by some GB(?) people, although
I can understand Barbara Need's more tangible point, which is about not being
able to get a job one thinks one can peform quite well. Someone in the recent
messages said something about putting together a "gene pool" of ideas, which
is not what the evolutionary logic would suggest: isn't it the case that
the diversity of ideas is as important as the diversity of life? There is much
about the history of ideas we don't understand, although we ought to know that
the conflict can often become highly personalised; take, for example, the well-
known controversy between Newton and Leibniz; can it get any worse?

That Newton wasn't a very nice person doesn't mean he wasn't a great scientist,
nor does it mean that not to be nice is a good guarantee of being a good
scientist; likewise, being nice doesn't ensure anything (although, judging from
the little I know, Chomsky does appear to be a RATHER nice person, in addition
to being a great linguist). I realize that I don't have much experience of
the North American academic scene, and I do sympathesize with anyone who has
encountered the difficulty of landing a job JUST because she/he wasn't a GB
linguist, but then does anyone realize how difficult it can be for some other
people to do linguistics of ANY kind if they happen to be in a country/
society where no one cares about what linguistics is? I have one or two friends
who I think are very good linguists, but who are stuck with jobs (back home,
where I come from) which do not have much/any relevance to the field.

One more thing: it isn't always the case that people suffer because they have
views which don't conform to GB: I believe there are situations where the
opposite norm prevails! Unfortunately, the correlation between being a good
linguist (of ANY kind) and a good human being is far from perfect.

Anjum Saleemi
National University of Singapore
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Message 2: non-GB vs. GB

Date: Wed, 16 Jun 93 08:15:20 PDnon-GB vs. GB
From: Maria Polinsky <>
Subject: non-GB vs. GB

I am amazed at the amount of correspondence generated by the discussion of
GB/non-GB value and worthiness. I believe that GB vs. non-GB argument
notwithstanding, this splash of comments reveals a truly troubling
fact about our field, defined as broadly as one likes: linguists are
more willing to discuss the politics of linguistics rather than data.
As long as the issues of being a non-GB = being a non-person are going to
stir more minds than do discussions of linguistic data, we are not going
to make much progress toward any kind of dispassionate agreement
and undertansing amongst ourselves.
The discussion seemed even more troubling to me, given the recent rumor
that people in linguistics will have to pay for the use of email; any
reader who is outside of linguistics is likely to conclude that those
who spend time and bytes discussing the implications of doing GB versus
doing APG deserve to be charged for such exchange: after all, whatever
the reasoning behind this may be, we are not exchanging data.

Maria Polinsky
U of Southern California
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Message 3: Re: 4.458 GB

Date: Tue, 15 Jun 93 22:16 PDT
From: Vicki Fromkin <IYO1VAFMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 4.458 GB

I was going to stay out of what I consider to be a rather ridiculous discussion
but it is taking up so much of the net that I would just like to put a
plea in to everyone spending so much time on wondering why or why-not
GB or not-GB to instead spend your time and efforts on substantive linguistic
research. All of us on the net I am sure consider ourselves fortunate to
work on such a fascinating and complex question as the nature of human
language, so get on with it. And may I just say that as someone who is
not a syntactician I find the work going on extremely important for
research on language processing, language disorders, and other related
areas. If indeed GB syntax monopolizes the field, then those of you
who work in a different framework have a tough time if your aim is to
convince the field, the students, etc. I don't think that those with
interesting alternative theories however, like relational grammar, and
HPSG, and LFG etc are busy writing polemics against Chomsky. They are
working on solving real problems. And those who view GB as simply a
new set of formalisms obviously have no idea of what GB syntacticians
are doing. The interest in principles and the attempt to discover them
supercedes any interest in formal ways of stating them, although noone
attacks physicists for describing laws of nature in formal terms. VAF
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Message 4: 4.458 GB

Date: Wed, 16 Jun 93 10:09:34 -04.458 GB
From: John S. Coleman <>
Subject: 4.458 GB

Philip Swann writes:

> but GB qua GB is surely
> what Chomsky himself would describe as a "notational variant" of
> HPSG, CFG, LFG etc.

This claim is wrong, and Chomsky knows it. These theories define
different classes of languages, and often assign non-equivalent
analyses to the constructions of a language. So the theories
differ in both weak and strong generative capacity. Not in
every respect, to be sure, but to a sufficient degree to
soundly refute the "notational variant" claim. That's why
those frameworks parted ways from each other, to a greater
or lesser extent, in the first place.

Philip Swann also writes:

> Since we're dealing with pure competence at
> an abstract level, the choice of formal apparatus is largely a
> matter of taste constrained by what you are actually trying to
> achieve.

Whatever happened to the notion of requiring a generative grammar
to be at least observationally adequate, i.e. at least capable
of enumerating a certain set of strings (e.g., sentences)? We
may be aiming for a theory of "pure competence at an abstract
level", but the small matter of the surface strings remains,

--- John Coleman
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