LINGUIST List 4.934

Tue 09 Nov 1993

Disc: Psycholinguistics

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  1. Sam Wang, Re: 4.920 Psycholinguistics
  2. Edith A Moravcsik, linguistics and psychology
  3. , Re: Psycholinguistics
  4. Esa Itkonen, psycholinguistics

Message 1: Re: 4.920 Psycholinguistics

Date: Sat, 6 Nov 1993 09:36:31 +Re: 4.920 Psycholinguistics
From: Sam Wang <>
Subject: Re: 4.920 Psycholinguistics

> From: Vicki Fromkin <IYO1VAFMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
> Grammaticality judgements are of course performance judgements but
> must in a very direct way reflect stored knowledge or I-Language.
> results may or may not reflect such knowledge and it is important to
> understand what other factors may be involved in obtaining such data,
> including short term memory, attentional aspects, real-time processing
> factors, etc etc etc. But we are beginning to see interesting experiments
> that are able to pull apart these different aspects of linguistic performance.
Aren't linguists human too? Don't they have to consider such factors
as short term memory, attentional aspects, real-time processing factors,
etc etc etc when making these 'grammatical judgements'? What makes
these linguists so special? Is it because of their training (as Newmeyer
would say)? Won't these trainings bias their judgements?

. H. Samuel Wang . EMAIL: .
. Department of Foreign Languages . TEL: 886 35 715131 ext 4398 .
. National Tsing Hua University . FAX: 885 35 718977; 886 35 725994 .
. Hsin-chu, Taiwan . .
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Message 2: linguistics and psychology

Date: Fri, 5 Nov 1993 14:23:28 -linguistics and psychology
From: Edith A Moravcsik <>
Subject: linguistics and psychology

This is a comment on the ongoing discussion about the relationship
between linguistics and psychology and, in particular, on Anjum
Saleemi's recent message.

I, too, find it exciting and highly desirable that there is
a growing interest in the psychology of language and in viewing
language from the comprehensive perspective
of cognitive science. However, I do not see this trend as replacing
the more traditional structural approach; instead, I see the two
as complementary. I would differ with Saleemi on the issue of whether
describing language structure based solely on evidence from grammaticality
and semantic judgments by speakers does or does not have a privileged
status. While Saleemi says it does not have a privileged status, I see
the structural approach as dealing with the structure
of the "INSTRUMENT" and thus as an endeavor that can be carried out
independently, without regard to how that instrument is IMPLEMENTED
within the body-and-mind of the user and then how it is USED.

In addition to seeing the structural approach as a POSSIBLE area of
research, it also seems to me to provide a NECESSARY (or at least
highly desirable) basis for the psychological study of language.
Structural linguists can (or at least strive to) tell us what the
simplest and most general linking of sound and meaning is in a language.
Studies of how people actually process language can then compare
their findings with the baseline provided by structural descriptions
and see if there is any difference; if so, this constitutes
an explanandum. For example, the fact that high-frequency inflectional
forms of the irregular kind such as "am" and "are" are stored and
processed by speakers as independent items is not in and of itself
interesting. It becomes interesting only if we know that semantically
and distributionally, they do constitute a paradigm and can
therefore be reasonably expected to be stored and processed as such.

Edith Moravcsik
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
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Message 3: Re: Psycholinguistics

Date: Mon, 08 Nov 1993 15:39:24 Re: Psycholinguistics
Subject: Re: Psycholinguistics

 On several occasions, the psychological validity of generative
grammars has been challenged on the grounds that the grammars are
not supported by external evidence. I agree with Vicki Fromkin,
that external evidence is not necessarily more revealing than
internal evidence. It is correct to assume that once all the
available evidence has been gathered, and it supports a given
theoretical construct, one may safely conclude that the construct
is real. What many see, however, is that generative theories are
almost entirely based on internal evidence. In very few cases has
external evidence played a part in the construction of generative

 As Sam Wang noted, a true incorporation of all the available
evidence does not, of course, mean that evidence of one type, or
from one source, is accepted if it corroborates the theory, and if
it does not, it is ignored. Unfortunately, this is precisely the
manner in which external evidence is treated in many generative
analyses. Once both the internal and external evidence support a
given theoretical entity, much more of a case may be made for the
reality of the entity.

 The current scarcity of external evidence may be attributed to
Chomsky's writings on the subject. Chomsky's position on the value
of external evidence is somewhat inconsistent. On a number of
occasions, he has asked that more and varied kinds of evidence,
including experimental evidence, be admitted into the pool of
linguistic evidence. However, he doesn't hold external evidence in
very high regard:

 As an objection of a narrower sort, one can take it
 seriously as an argument that the evidential base is too
 narrow to carry conviction; one who believes this might
 ask what other kinds of evidence would strengthen or
 undermine the theories we are led to construct on the
 basis of the (not inconsiderable) evidence that we can
 now readily obtain. In practice, what has been produced
 along these lines HAS NOT BEEN VERY INFORMATIVE, but
 certainly any improvement in this regard will be welcome.
 (1986. _Knowledge of language_. p. 260. emphasis is

In theory, Chomsky invites all kinds of evidence, but in practice
he finds only a restricted kind of evidence truly compelling.

 A similar contradiction exists in Chomsky's opinion about the
utility of intuitive judgements. At one point, he appears to
concede that too much emphasis has been put on intuitive judgements
as the sole source of evidence: "It just seems absurd to restrict
linguistics to the study of introspective judgements, as is very
commonly done" (1982. _The generative enterprise_. p. 33). Yet,
later he declares that they alone constitute ample evidence:

 Perhaps the fear is that the evidence is "all of the same
 sort," primarily informant judgements, and that other
 types of evidence are necessary. As an objection of
 principle, this is plainly without merit; these phenomena
 certainly constitute evidence, and in fact the evidence
 they provide DOES SUFFICE to confirm or to refute
 proposed theories and even leads to empirical theories of
 some scope and depth. (1986. _Knowledge of language_.
 p. 260. emphasis is mine)

The only real solution is to actively seek both types of evidence
before assuming psychological import.

David Eddington
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Message 4: psycholinguistics

Date: Tue, 9 Nov 1993 14:17:38 Gpsycholinguistics
From: Esa Itkonen <>
Subject: psycholinguistics

Is linguistics just a subbranch of psychology? Before you succumb to the
knee-jerk reaction and emit 'Yes!', consider the following. First, there
are those who, like Panini or Montague, systematize the intuitive notion
of 'grammatical (and meaningful) sentence', while paying no attention
to, and even going against, any reasonable hypotheses about psychological
structures and/or processes and who, nevertheless, achieve exemplary
results. Second, there are those who, while claiming to be doing
psychological/psycholinguistic research, are in practice doing research
`a la Panini/Montague. Third, there are those who both claim to be
doing and are in fact doing psycholinguistic (= preferably experimental)
research. At first blush, all this may seem puzzling. (HINT: accept the
existence of dissimilar objectives, but reject contradiction between
words and deeds.) But, as if this were not complicated enough, you
must also consider that (pre-experimental) intuition sets definite
limits to experimentation: if in one particular experiment you
get the result that the English 'dog' means the same thing as the German
'aber' or means nothing at all, you do not discard your hypothesis
(whatever it is), but you discard the test person.

Anjum Saleemi reports that "this line of reasoning...has been bothering
me lately", and (s)he hopes that it "isn't entirely alien to the
thinking of many other members of the field either." Now, apart from
the fact that I am not sure who is or is not a member of the FIELD,
I trust that Anjum Saleemi will be delighted to hear that the very
same problems were bothering many people already in the mid-seventies,
and intensely so. I can recall without effort at least the following
names: Botha, Derwing, Kac, Lass, Linell, Ringen. In those days,
several arguments and counter-arguments were offered for and against
various versions of (anti-)psychologism. For my part, I dealt with
these problems and their ramifications in two books (totalling 687
pages). During the last ten years I haven't come across any new arguments.
But let every generation reinvent the wheel; and forget about progress
(speaking of which, I must admit that in my own posting a couple of weeks
ago I seem to have misconstrued the meaning of David Pesetsky's somewhat
earlier message).

Esa Itkonen
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