LINGUIST List 7.482

Fri Mar 29 1996

Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <dizdartam2000.tamu.edu>


Directory

  1. Alexis Manaster Ramer, Re: 7.467, Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism
  2. Richard Hudson, RE: 7.467, Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism

Message 1: Re: 7.467, Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism

Date: Wed, 27 Mar 1996 13:10:05 EST
From: Alexis Manaster Ramer <amrCS.Wayne.EDU>
Subject: Re: 7.467, Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism
The argument of Chomsky's, as restated for us by Dan Everett, that
certain proposed linguistic principles must be linguistic and not
general-cognitive, because they are not statABLE in any terms other
than linguistic, strikes me fallacious. And not just because I do
not, as Dan correctly surmises, have much use for most of Chomsky's
work since 1965 or so, but for a specific reason. It is the
emphasized -ABLE (my emphasis) that bothers me. All I know is that
the various island constraints and so on have not been statED in more
general terms, not that they are not statABLE in such terms. I wish
that people would start making a clear distinction between cases where
we really know something is impossible (we have lots of such results,
due to Bohr, Go"del, Turing, etc.) and where we have no idea what
might or might not be possible (in part because we have not
tried). There seem to be few if any genuine impossibility results in
linguistics or cognitive science generally.
 
However, on the other hand, the strategy of doing linguistics as best
we can and ignoring the rest of cognition, which seems to me to be
Chomsky's no less and no more than that of most linguists, precisely
because we have no ideas to compare the linguistic ones to.
 
So what I urge is that we make a clear distinction between saying that
we have no choice but to do linguistics AS THOUGH it were distinct
from the rest of cognition, but that we have no basis whatever for
saying that linguistic principles which we discover as a result either
ARE or ARE NOT special cases of more general cognitive principles.
 
Modularity is a valid, indeed the only valid, methodological approach
linguistics can follow in practice, but I see no basis whatever for
making any assertions one way or the other about its validity as a
claim about the organization of human cognition--OR ANY NEED TO. The
only difference between a linguist who simply does linguistics and one
who does linguistics and in addition makes completely unfounded
assertions about the nature of the mind is that the latter is
(dishonestly in my view) seeking to get more attention for doing the
same kind work as the former.
 
Alexis MR
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Message 2: RE: 7.467, Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism

Date: Wed, 27 Mar 1996 23:26:59 CST
From: Richard Hudson <r.hudsonlinguistics.ucl.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: 7.467, Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism
Dan Everett and John Limber both complain about my summary of the
difference between the roles of `economy' in Minimalism and in earlier
work. What I said was the following:

> dh: The earlier types of `economy' applied to the activity of the
> *linguist* writing a grammar: assume the minimum of rules, categories,
> etc. The new kind of economy is surely completely different, as it
> applies to the *user*. I think Esa Itkonen is right.


I stand by it, though I accept that it's rather too economically
expressed. In Minimalism economy applies to the generation of a
particular sentence, so that the structure generated should be the
most economical one possible for that string of words (etc.). It
certainly controls the activity of the user, in the sense of someone
using the grammar to generate a structure (and maybe it applies to
speakers and hearers too). In contrast, old-style economy was just
Occam's Razor applied to the linguist's analysis in a fairly
uncontroversial way - other things being equal, assume as few
categories and as few rules or principles as possible. As Everett and
Limber both point out, it made sense when applied to the linguist's
analysis because it also seemed likely to apply to the
language-learner's analysis (though of course there was some doubt as
to whether economy of this type really was relevant to the
latter). But it did *not* apply to the way the language-user applied
the grammar once learned, in contrast with Minimalism. So I was
contrasting the old-style economy, which applied to both linguist and
learner, with new-style economy, which applies to the user.
============================================================================
Prof Richard Hudson Tel: +44 171 387 7050 ext 3152
 E-mail: r.hudsonling.ucl.ac.uk
Dept. of Phonetics and Linguistics Tel: +44 171 380 7172
 Fax: +44 171 383 4108
UCL
Gower Street
London WC1E 6BT
UK
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