LINGUIST List 7.517

Tue Apr 9 1996

Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <dseelyemunix.emich.edu>


Directory

  1. Robin Allott, Re: 7.512, Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism
  2. "Daniel L. Everett", Re: 7.512, Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism

Message 1: Re: 7.512, Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism

Date: Sat, 06 Apr 1996 19:29:20 GMT
From: Robin Allott <RMAllottpercep.demon.co.uk>
Subject: Re: 7.512, Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism
PDeanedataware.com (Paul Deane) wrote:
> 
> Is there anyone out there who's interested?

Yes. Coming slightly sideways into this discussion on returning from the
Edinburgh Conference on The Evolution of Human Language when some of the
issues were considered (formally and informally), I have a few comments:

Paul Deane summarised the Chomskyan view that 

> > ..... the task ................... would be to show that an
> >equally good account of, say, the ECP is possible for language (i.e. which
> >gets all and only the relevant extraction facts), but which also accounts
> >for properties of some other cognitive system, say, vision. This seems
> >highly unlikely. This is Chomsky's usual strategy.
> 
and commented:

> The unstated assumption ......... is ....that there are no serious
> proposals out there which seek to show that such specific linguistic
> principles as subjacency and the island constraints can be derived from more
> general cognitive capacities. ... There are serious proposals linking
> specific grammatical properties to specific nonlinguistic cognitive
> abilities. ....... ... I'd really like to see some concrete discussion. 
> 

Linguists generally do not seem to be much interested in evolution but
unless one is a Creationist it is intellectually unsatisfactory to say
that language, like all other human capacities, must have a biological
basis in the human brain and body yet cannot have evolved in any way
compatible with the Darwinian processes which account for all other
animal and human forms and behaviours. It is not good enough looking at
the mystery of language to exclaim O Altitudo with the theologians of long 
ago. If one considers what language is as a neural and articulatory system, 
it must have accurately functioning links with the perceptuo-motor system. 
To say with Chomsky that one cannot see how the features of his various
grammatical formalisms can be derived from the visual system, or the
motor system (Pinker and Bloom) only indicates either the limitations
of our understanding of these systems or something wrong with the
formalisms. There are other specific proposals about the biological and
evolutionary basis of language in neural change or exaptation of pre-existing
systems (Bickerton, Lieberman, Givon, Calvin, myself - the motor theory) but, 
perhaps except for Bickerton, they judge that what has to be abandoned or 
radically modified are the (rather frequently changing) formalisms of 
Chomskyan theory.

On the issue of economy, incidentally, referred to by Richard Hudson, the 
minimalist evolutionary account (as I understood it which wasn't very much)
presented at the Edinburgh conference by Robert Berwick and associates 
argued that economy in minimalism was something quite different from other and
earlier uses.

Robin Allott rmallottpercep.demon.co.uk
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Re: 7.512, Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism

Date: Sat, 06 Apr 1996 10:59:00 EST
From: "Daniel L. Everett" <deververb.linguist.pitt.edu>
Subject: Re: 7.512, Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism
I agree with Dick Hudson on the statement below. As long as we are talking
about a specific principle called economy, well, yes, that is a new
proposal.

But it is not a radical break. Its usefulness lies in its empirical rather
than its philosophical/history of science implications. It fits into a
long-established tradition of reducing theories to bare conceptual
necessity, however.

>
> dh: It's the specific principle called Minimalism that I think we're arguing
> about. The argument started when Esa Itkonen said that the role of economy
> was different in Minimalism from what it had been in Chomsky's earlier work.
> I think you're agreeing.
>
> > So, the notion of economy that we
> > used in days of beads and sandals is still the one we use in days of our
> > kids' tuition.
>
> dh: So that's a pretty misleading conclusion!

Not really. But it can be confusing whenever a proper name refers to a
specific entity and a general philosophy at the same time (something like
talking about people from New York state vs. city).


Paul Dean says:

> I've noted quite a bit of discussion in this thread along the following
> lines:

He then quotes one of my postings on language principles.
He replies:
>
> The unstated assumption of comments like these (and this is just a sample,
> there were others with similar presuppositions) is that the issue is
> entirely hypothetical: that there are no serious
> proposals out there which seek to show that such specific linguistic
> principles as subjacency and the island constraints can be derived from more
> general cognitive capacities. I'd like to call attention to the fact that
> that assumption simply isn't true. There are serious proposals linking
> specific grammatical properties to specific nonlinguistic cognitive
> abilities.

I did not mean to imply this, sorry for doing so. My statement was meant
to show the form of the argument, not whether it was valid or not. You are
right to call for more discussion of such proposals.

- Dan Everett
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue