LINGUIST List 7.1765

Thu Dec 12 1996

Disc: Analogy

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. pmfarrell, Re: Disc: Analogy

Message 1: Re: Disc: Analogy

Date: Wed, 11 Dec 1996 15:12:31 -0800 (PST)
From: pmfarrell <>
Subject: Re: Disc: Analogy

There seems to be general agreement that:

1. Analogy plays a role in language change.
2. There are constraints on analogizing that are important to an
understanding of knowledge of language.

The nature of these constraints remains the key issue of
contention, as far as I can tell. One stance, Chomsky's and
Everett's I take it, is that important constraints are to be
found in a set of principles pertaining solely to the possible
form of linguistic structures, as Isreal puts it, "an abstract
(innate, encapsulated and domain-specific) Universal Grammar."

An extreme version of this stance would be that there are NO
other constraints. This extreme stance seems untenable. Consider
the following case discussed by Chomsky in his discussion (in the
video "Human Language Series, Part II) "of what he considers to
be the failure of analogy-based approaches to language
acquisition :

The boy paints the red barn : The boy paints the barn red ::
The boy sees the red barn: The boy sees the barn red

As my students were quick to point out to me after I showed them
this video, the analogy is not drawn because an act of seeing
cannot produce a change of state in an object of
perception. Because of our beliefs about how the world is and our
knowledge of the meanings of _see_ and the resultative
construction, the analogy is UNREASONABLE. As far as I know,
there is no independently motivated principle of grammar that
precludes the analogy. If that is so, then I think one must
recognize that one kind of constraint on analogy is:

3. Avoid conceptual anomaly.

The case brought up by Speas is readily explained by (3) as well.

> John is easy to please : To please John is easy ::
> John is eager to please : To please John is eager.

_Eager_, unlike _easy_, denotes a state that can only be
attributed to a sentient being, which the referent of _To please
John_ is not.

Of course it might be that there is an independently motivated
principle of grammar that could be said to preclude this analogy
as well, as Everett intimates. But what is it?

More generally, the universal grammar stance, according to which
formal principles of linguistic structure constrain analogy,
could be said to be interesting if one could point to
semantically/conceptually REAONABLE analogies that are not drawn
AND corresponding explanatory principles of linguistic form that
are independently motivated, technically viable, and non-vacuous.

There must be better cases than those that have figured in this
discussion so far. What are some?

Patrick Farrell
Linguistics Program
UC Davis
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue