LINGUIST List 7.1779

Sun Dec 15 1996

Disc: Analogy

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Stirling Newberry, Re: 7.1778, Disc: Analogy

Message 1: Re: 7.1778, Disc: Analogy

Date: Sun, 15 Dec 1996 12:46:03 -0500
From: Stirling Newberry <>
Subject: Re: 7.1778, Disc: Analogy

Daniel L. Everett writes:

>Patrick Farrell write on analogy that:
>> 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.
>I am not sure if there is such a general consensus. My own posting is
>agnostic on the first item. On the second item I do not know that there
>are any constraints on analogy, I doubt if there are. There are general
>constraints of grammar, some of which turn out to constrain analogies
>that people might imagine.

I am going to go further and say that analogy is a higher order mechanism
and is therefore constrained differently from other forms of grammatical
construction. Every analogy cited relies on the explicit memory of an
entire phrase and the modification of the phrase to meet the model. Thus
while UG mechanisms will constrain analogization on an unconscious level,
conscious level analogization will come from a different source, that is to
say the realization at a conscious level that one does not posess a
strictly gramatical way to construct the idea one has in language terms.

This means that instead of analogy being constrained by gramar directly -
as in "no non-gramatical analogies will be formed", the restrictions on
analogies formed consciously are going to be checked against a much wider
range of other mechanisms.

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

The flaw with this argument is that it is making an analogy to the analogy
which is not derivable from the same sources. You are making an anlogy
between the two phrases becuase they are alike by the standards of external
grammar. This is confusing two different kinds of analogy.

>> 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.

There is no reason why verbs of the different classes cannot be stored and
processed differently - and that we confuse them in our labeling them of
verbs. This is a common error: to confuse the conscious description of
grammar with universal grammar. If the two were one and the same there
would be no reason for binding theory et al.

Instead one must diagram what you think is going on all the way down at the
deep structure level. In this case I would argue that there is not a true
analgoy in the first sentence because in the first red is bound to barn and
the second to paints. In the second there is no binding to red.

>Our knowledge of the real world is mediated in language by grammar to a
>large degree. Work on processing (see especially Ted Gibson's work in
>numerous articles and a forthcoming MIT Press book) shows fairly clearly
>that in the type of case raised here there are grammatical principles
>ruling out the relevant structures. Whether these derive from analogy in
>some 'ultimate' sense is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that
>analogy will not explain the range of processing cases nearly as well as
>a combination of constraints on grammar and short-term memory.

Agreed with the further caveat that additional constraints can come into
play if higher order structures are invoked, that is to say if the
resulting gramatical construct is processed by other sections of the brain
versus when it is not. This would argue for analogies that work within the
gramatical frame but not outside of it.

>If that is so, then I think one must
>> recognize that one kind of constraint on analogy is:
>> 3. Avoid conceptual anomaly.

This doesn't work at all - there are plenty of analogies that *work* in
language which are conceptually anamolous - and in fact were chosen because
they allowed the dealing with concepts which are irreducible directly. A
simple example is anthropomorphization - many things do not seem to follow
any sort of pattern which we can reduce to words. The analogization of
ships and storms as feminine is an example of this - by creating the
lingusitic analogy it reinforced the behavioral analogy in other parts of
the brain. In language having classes of nouns be "masculine" or "feminine"
or meter schemes or rhyme schemes. These are all - if examined -
conceptually anomalies.

The checking of constructs to avoid anamoly is a much later step in the
chain of construction. If this avoidance occured as a ddep structure - then
we would not have the sotr of utterances that come out of delerium or

>> 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.

But to test this correctly you are going to have to straighten out your
symbol set: analogy seems to be a very sloppy concept - and it seems that
you are arguing that certain processes at the deep structure level are
occuring which are analogies - and you are arguing this by analogy. After
all for any analogy that is not drawn - one can come up with an explanation
as to wahy it is not drawn. This is because human beings have "excuse
generating mechanisms", which, as experiments over the last 30 years have
shown, can come up with an explanation for any behavior/linguistic
mismatch, even if that explanation is known to be at odds with the truth.

The classical example of this is the experiement were a person with the two
lobes of the brain split is shown the word "orange" in one eye and an is
shown a picture of a bird in the other. If the visual cortex hand is given
a pencil and the person is told to "draw the word you see" - they draw a
bird. If then asked why they did not draw what they saw - that is to say
the anamoly is pointed out - they will draw a conclusion such as "well a
bird is round like an orange" or "I didn't feel like it". To say that you
will be convinced not when experiment has shown x to be true - but when
your excuse generating mechanism has been exhausted is a very different
standard of proof. One that most people do not feel the need to adhere to.
One does not punish a child when they can't come up with excuses any longer
- but when it is clear from the assembled facts that the cookie jar did not
one morning decide to commit suicide by jumping off of the top shelf.

>This is what the literature on processing has dealt with for years,
>especially grammatically-based models.
>- DLE

The flaw with this is that people fail to draw conclusions all of hte time
- and as the history of mathematics and science shows - it is not because
these analogies or conclusions *cannot* be drawn, but that they *have not*
been drawn.

Stirling Newberry
Boston, Massachusetts
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