LINGUIST List 5.418

Mon 11 Apr 1994

Disc: Mainstream

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  1. Richard Hudson UCL, Mainstream and generative linguistics
  2. Paul Deane, Mainstream Linguistics

Message 1: Mainstream and generative linguistics

Date: Thu, 07 Apr 94 08:35:10 +0Mainstream and generative linguistics
From: Richard Hudson UCL <>
Subject: Mainstream and generative linguistics

One characteristic of Chomskyan linguistics which is quite unnecessarily
offensive to others is the tendency to hijack the term "generative", which
is often used (only by Chomskyans) to refer to Chomskyan linguistics. I
wonder if any Chomskyan linguist would want to defend this on purely
academic grounds?

Dick Hudson
Dept of Phonetics and Linguistics,
University College London,
Gower Street,
London WC1E 6BT
(071) 387 7050 ext 3152
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Message 2: Mainstream Linguistics

Date: Thu, 7 Apr 1994 06:53:26 -Mainstream Linguistics
From: Paul Deane <>
Subject: Mainstream Linguistics

Recent postings on the "mainstream linguistics" topic
by Jo Rubba and Alexis Manister-Ramer raise several
issues I would like to see explored in more detail.

To begin with, Jo Rubba is absolutely correct to empha-
size that the Cognitivist approach to linguistics has a
program for syntactic theory. There is a rather simple
way to make the point: by my count, 12 of the 34 full-
length articles published so far in COGNITIVE LINGUISTICS
focus on syntax. If I had included other articles dealing
primarily with the polysemy or discourse properties of
syntactic constructions, the count would be even higher.
And of the three titles to appear so far in the series
syntactic theory. (I should note, however, that Lakoff's
contribution to the "cognitive linguistics" program has
been primarily in the areas of polysemy and metaphor.
While he publishes occasional papers on syntax, such as
his 1986 CLS paper on exceptions to Across-the-Board
extraction, it does not constitute the bulk of his re-
search output. By contrast, Langacker's work clearly
focuses on syntax, notwithstanding his deep interest in
lexical matters.)

But I do not think Jo Rubba has quite pinned down the
difference between generativist and cognitivist approach-
es to syntax. Alexis Manister-Ramer is surely on the mark
to observe that construction meaning is an old concept,
going back at least to Bloomfield. It is, in fact, an
idea common to many (otherwise quite distinct) linguistic
theories. It is to be observed in Montague Grammar (and
hence in syntactic theories incorporating a Montagovian
semantics). Similar ideas surface in much generative work,
including that of Pinker and Jackendoff. An emphasis on
construction meaning, while characteristic of cognitivism,
is by no means one of its distinctive features.

Langacker's Cognitive Grammar is unique in its attempt to
REDUCE syntax to abstract semantic patterns. But many of
us who accept the "cognitive linguistics" label would
disagree with Langacker on this point. (One might say that
such semantic reductionism, while prototypical for the
category `cognitive linguist' is neither a necessary nor
a sufficient condition for being one.) I for one believe
that there is a real difference between syntax and
semantics. But I also think there is an intimate connec-
tion between them--far more intimate a connection than
generative theory would allow.

In a generative approach, syntax and semantics are distinct
levels of representation with distinct organizing
principles. One can make generalizations (a) about syntax;
(b) about about semantics; or (c) about the mapping or
correspondence between syntax and semantics. What one does
not do, as part of the fundamental assumptions of the
framework, is to formulate principles which apply
indifferently to syntax and to semantics, that is, which
explain both as manifestations of common underlying
principles. The hallmark of the `cognitive linguistics'
approach, by contrast, is to formulate generalizations
about semantics, and then to turn around and see if those
generalizations can explain anything about syntax.

The general form of argument looks something like the

I. Phenomenon X (polysemy, metaphor, whatever) is too
 fundamental to the way language works to be
 marginalized. In particular, no theory of
 linguistic meaning can afford to ignore it.

II. But if we attempt to analyse this phenomenon in
 its own right, we discover that it is difficult
 and unproductive to maintain standard analytic
 assumptions. For example, metaphor is too
 pervasive in ordinary, utterly conventional talk
 to treat it as "lying for conversational effect",
 as any theory must which maintains that meaning
 is fundamentally a matter of truth value.

III. So we develop a theory which can account for such
 "marginal" phenomena (where "marginal" means
 simply, indigestible on standard assumptions about
 the nature of language and linguistic theory.

IV. Finally, we turn around and see what this theory
 will buy us when it is applied to "standard",
 run-of-the-mill linguistic phenomena. Often we
 find it buys quite a lot. So we end up with a
 theory of syntax based upon concepts developed
 for other purposes. To the extent that the theory
 works and makes sense BOTH for standard phenomena
 AND for those phenomena that other theories must
 marginalize, the original assumptions are

Of course, in stages I, II, and III the enterprise may
look like it is "only concerned with lexical semantics".
And that no doubt is the source of the stereotype Jo
Rubba is at pains to dispell. We are starting to get
some reasonably well worked-out stage IV research though.
See my book and Karen Van Hoek's dissertation for analyses
in which the concept of c-command comes out looking very
different (and not at all exclusively syntactic). My book
also presents a number of analyses in which "mainstream"
concepts are reworked in ways that yield unexpected bene-
fits, such as its use of the concept of "functional head"
in combination with prototype theory to account for the fact
that non-finite auxiliaries and ordinary complementizers
function as subordinators. See Langacker's recent work for
very interesting accounts of Raising and other core
syntactic phenomena. And that is just scratching the
surface. I enclose a short bibliography for those interested
in reading more.

The real issue for me, though, is that people be willing to
read--and cite--people who work within other frameworks,
even those who challenge one's most deeply held assumptions
about language. We are scientists to the extent that we are
willing to allow for the possibility that our opponents are

Attached bibliography:

Book-Length Treatments

Deane, Paul D. 1992. Grammar in Mind and Brain:
 Explorations in Cognitive Syntax. Berlin: Mouton de

Langacker, Ronald. 1991a. Foundations of Cognitive
 Grammar, vol. II: Descriptive Application. Stanford:
 Stanford University Press.

Langacker, Ronald. 1991b. Concept, Image, and Symbol:
 The Cognitive Basis of Grammar. Berlin/New York:
 Mouton de Gruyter.

Van Hoek, Karen. 1993. Paths through Conceptual
 Structure: Constraints on Pronominal Anaphora
 [Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, University of
 California San Diego.]


Deane, Paul D. 1987. English Possessives, Topicality,
 and the Silverstein Hierarchy. BLS 13, 65-76.

Deane, Paul D. 1988. Which NPs are there unusual
 possibilities for extraction from? CLS 24.1, 89-100.

Deane, Paul D. 1991. Limits to attention: A cognitive
 theory of island phenomena. Cognitive Linguistics
 2.1, 1-63.

Delancy, Scott. 1990. Ergativity and the cognitive
 model of event structure in Lhasa Tibetan. Cognitive
 Linguistics 1.3, 289-322.

Delbecque, Nicole. 1990. Word order as a reflection of
 alternate conceptual construals in French and
 Spanish. Similarities in adjective position.
 Cognitive Linguistics 1.4, 349-416.

Fife, James. 1993. Decapitation in two Welsh adjectival
 constructions. Cognitive Linguistics 4.4, 371-394.

Goldberg, Adele E. 1992. The inherent semantics of
 argument structure: The case of the English
 ditransitive construction. Cognitive Linguistics
 3.1, 37-74.

Hirschberg, Julia and Gregory Ward. 1991. Accent and
 bound anaphora. Cognitive Linguistics 2.2., 101-122.

Hewson, John. 1991. Determiners as heads. Cognitive
 Linguistics 2.4, 317-338.

Janda, Laura. 1990. The radial network of a grammatical
 category - its genesis and dynamic structure.
 Cognitive Linguistics 1.3, 269-288.
 [Morphological Case]

Lakoff, George. 1986. Frame semantic control of the
 coordinate structure constraint. CLS 22, 152-167.

Langacker, Ronald. 1993. Reference-point constructions.
 Cognitive Linguistics 4.1,1-38.

Payne, Thomas. 1991. Medial clauses and inter-
 propositional relations in Panare. Cognitive
 Linguistics 2.3, 247-282.

Taylor, John R. Old Problems: Adjectives in Cognitive
 Grammar. Cognitive Linguistics 3.1, 1-75.

Taylor, John R. Possessive genitives in English.
 Linguistics 27, 663-686.

Tuggy, David. 1992. The Affix-Stem Distinction: A
 Cognitive Grammar analysis of data from Orizaba
 Nahuatl. Cognitive Linguistics 3.3, 237-300.
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