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Review of  Functionalism and Formalism in Linguistics

Reviewer: Ahmad R. Lotfi
Book Title: Functionalism and Formalism in Linguistics
Book Author: Michael Darnell Edith A. Moravcsik Michael Noonan Frederick J. Newmeyer
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 11.3

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Michael Darnell, Edith Moravcsik, Fredrick Newmeyer, Michael
Noonan, and Kathleen Wheatley (eds), (1998), Functionalism and
Formalism in Linguistics, John Benjamins Publishing Company,
Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Volume I (General Papers) 514p, Volume II (Case Studies) 407p.

Reviewed by Ahmad Reza Lotfi, Azad University


"Functionalism and Formalism in Linguistics" is a two-volume collection
of 35 papers selected from among the 87 papers presented at the 23rd
UWM Linguistics Symposium (the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, April
1996). Volume I includes 18 general papers that are organized
in four parts on syntax, phonology, first language acquisition and
global issues respectively. The first two parts were intended to cover
a number of controversial issues by leading formalist and functionalist
authors so that for each topic a functionalist position paper, a
formalist one, and a discussant paper on the other two papers would shed
lights from different angles on the topic in question. However, this
scheme could not be fully followed as five authors decided not to submit
their papers for publication.
Volume II includes 17 papers on case studies from formalist and/or
functionalist perspectives. The papers are organized into two parts,
one dealing with syntax, morphology, and morphological alternation;
the other with first language acquisition research. The structure of
tVolume I (514 pages): General papers
Part I: Syntax
Functionalist/formalist Syntax
1. Functionalist position paper (Michael Noonan)
2. Formalist position paper (Howard Lasnik)
3. Discussant paper (Werber Abraham)
What functionalists and formalists can learn from each other
4. Functionalist position paper (William Croft)
5. Formalist position paper (Stephen R. Anderson)
Functionalist/formalist approaches to word order
6. Functionalist perspective (Doris Payne)
7. Discussant paper (Ken Hale)
Functionalist/formalist approaches to ergetivity
8. Discussant paper (Alice Davison)
Part II: Phonology
Position papers
9. Functionalist position paper (Joan L. Bybee)
10. Formalist position paper (Bruce P. Hayes)
11. Discussant paper (Janet Pierrehumbert)
'Mutual-benefit' position papers
12. What functionalists can learn from formalists (Geoffrey
13. What formalists can learn from functionalists (Michael
Part III: First language acquisition
14. Functionalist perspective (Brian MacWhinney)
15. Formalist perspective (Nina Hyams)
Part IV: Global issues
16. Functionalist perspective (Mark Durie)
17. Eclectic perspective (Daniel Nettle)
18. Concluding paper (Frederick J. Newmeyer)
Volume II (407 pages): Case studies
Part I: Syntax, morphology, and morphological alternation
19. Functionalist paper on 'pragmatic' phenomena (Mira Ariel)
20. Functionalist paper on the Koyukon prefixes (Melissa Axelrod)
21. Eclectic paper on the limits of formal analysis in Oromo
grammar (Robbin Clamons et al)
22. Functionalist paper on relative clauses in Tsez
(Bernard Comrie and Maria Polinsky)
23. Functionalist (formalizing) paper on Dik's Functional Grammar
(Kees Hengeveld)
24. Eclectic paper on the Japanese PVC (Lizanne Kaiser)
25. Eclectic paper on phonological alternations in Istanbul
Turkish (Nicholas Kibre)
26. Formalist paper on the limits of functional adaptation
(Simon Kirby)
27. Formalist paper on Chinese 'ba' (Feng-hsi Liu)
28. Eclectic paper on topicality and agreement (Andre Meinunger)
29. Eclectic paper on 'ser' in Colonial Spanish (Viola G. Miglio)
30. Functionalist (OT) paper on split case systems (Wataru
31. Functionalist paper on Welsh soft mutation (Maggie Tallerman)
32. Formalist paper on 'brow raise' in ASL (Ronnie Wilbur)
Part II: First language acquisition
33. Eclectic paper on language development (Erika Hoff-Ginsberg)
34. Eclectic paper on the critical period (James R. Hurford)
35. Eclectic paper on holophrases (Elizabeth Purnell)
1. Non-structuralist Syntax (Michael Noonan, University of Wisconsin-
West Coast Functionalism (so called as many of its practitioners happen
to live or have studied on the West Coast of the US) is an umbrella
term for a good number of designations such as Cognitive Grammar,
Construction Grammar, Emergent Grammar, , etc. WCF is contrasted with
the Basic Structuralist Model in reference to the basic tenets of the
a. self-containedness
b. systematicity
c. arbitrariness (relational rather than substantive definitions
for categories, e.g. an ADJ is not-Noun and not-VERB)
d. discrete categories
e. a static, synchronic system as the object of description
f. distinction between abstract knowledge and use
Despite that, there are a number of features usually associated with
structuralism that are *logically independent* of the structuralist
model. The features have something to do with:
a. the rationalist/empiricist continuum
b. the absence of functional analyses of aspects of grammar
c. innateness
d. the universalist/relativist continuum
e. intuitions as the source of data
The major problems with the structuralist model follow from (1) rather
than (2):
a. categories defined relationally, not substantively
b. adherence to discrete categories
c. inability to deal adequately with language variation
d. inability to deal with language in a dynamic, temporal framework
e. difficulties in dealing with the problem of language change
f. positing as a theoretical construct a distinction between
knowledge of language and knowledge of how language is used
What makes WCF a non-structuralist alternative model for syntax is the
rejection of (1) as the basic tenets of the BSM in favour of some
functionalist solutions for (3). Apart from that, there is no consensus
among WCFs on the different aspects of (2).

2. On the Locality of Movement (Howard Lasnik, University of

Formalist locality constraints on movement have a long history in the
generativist literature. As a typical constraint of that sort,
Subjacency assumes that "(n)o rule can move Y to X if Y is not
subjacent to X" where "Y is subjacent to X if there is at most one
cyclic category (NP or S) that contains Y and does not contain X
(p. 36)." This can explain why sentences below are ungrammatical:
(1) * The man who I saw the dog that bit -- fell down.
(2) * Who did you see the dog that bit --?
Pritchett (1991) tries to develop a functionalist account of such
locality constraints on movement in terms of the capacity of the
human parser to cope with such complex sentences as (1) and (2).
A "pure" processing account, however, runs into difficulties as it
cannot explain the grammaticality of equally complex sentences
whose grammaticality can be taken care of in formalist terms outlined
* The hat [which [I believed [the claim that Otto was wearing --]]]
is red.
(4) The hat [which [I believed [that Mary claimed [that Otto was
wearing --]]] is red.
It does NOT follow that any other functionalist account of such
constraints is out of question. No arguments are made against a
functionalist account "that takes the formal grammatical principles
to have arisen to satisfy some functional need, perhaps a processing
need (p. 49)."

3. Discussant Paper Referring to the "Syntax Position Papers" by
Howard Lasnik and Mickey Noonan (Werner Abraham, Groningen University)

These two papers are not quite compatible as Lasnik's paper is con-
cerned with a specific problem while Noonan's focuses on very general
issues of methodology. Noonan's paper is much more explicit with
respect to structuralism. It is 'a complete linguistic program' that
refutes the structuralist methodologies. This is a surprise as "the
Functionalist tradition is closely linked to such schools and indi-
vidual names as the Prague school, to Martinet, Greenberg, Givon,
Comrie, Li, Thompson, Bybee, Haiman, Chafe, Mithun, among many others
(p.61)." Lasnik, on the other hand, shows the superiority of his
syntactic solution to a specific problem in terms of locality
constraints. Two important but missing concepts in the functionalist
and the formalist papers are the relation of linguistic analysis to
empirical work in language acquisition and discourse entities

4. What (Some) Functionalists Can Learn from (Some) Formalists
(William Croft, University of Manchester)

Although there are many things that formalists and functionalists
can learn from each other, it does NOT follow that these two
complement each other. The integration of them into a single general
theory of language is out of question. Functionalists can learn from
formalists about such developments within the formalist framework
as Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar and Optimality Theory
that are more compatible with the ontological and methodological
commitments of functionalism. They can also learn from formalists'
criticisms of functionalism. The absence of syntactic representational
models in functionalist theories is a good case in this respect. There
are also two important lessons that BOTH formalists and functionalists
should learn: first, "there are stricter limits to (synchronic)
explanation than the analyst's ingenuity (p. 104);" second, "ignorance
of the data is no excuse (p. 105)."

5. A Formalist's Reading of Some Functionalist Work in Syntax
(Stephen R. Anderson, Yale University)

In the wrong sense of the word, formalism is practiced by some for
formalism's sake. Although one witnesses a tendency among the
practitioners of Minimalist Program to reduce the complexity of
structures, this may be simply due to a change in the aesthetics of
the field rather than a genuine rethinking of the issues on empirical
grounds. Despite that, a formalist's reading of some functionalist
work in syntax persuades him more and more that the functionalist
approach still heavily relies on implicit and pre-systematic under-
standing the functionalist can afford to have of such domains as
semantics and pragmatics allegedly behind syntactic phenomena. Such
weaknesses of functionalism suggest that (contrary to the function-
alist claims) the formalist's modularity assumption of the human
mind with individually autonomous systems is still a valid and
productive line of research to follow. And this is the lesson
formalists can learn from functionalist work in syntax.

6. What Counts as Explanation? A functionalist approach to word order
(Doris Payne, University of Oregon & Summer Institute of Linguistics)

Although formalist and functionalist approaches partially converge over
the goal of explaining word order data (in terms of morphosyntactic
and semantic properties), they are fundamentally different in "the scope
of data to be explained, and what counts as explanation (p. 140)."
Functionalists try to explain the linguistic system in reference to
the actual communicative behaviour of participants. Moreover, they are
interested in understanding the factors that produce and constrain the
nature of forms. Formalists, on the other hand, consider the legitimate
explanations to be those that do not appeal to facts outside the
linguistic system proper. The differences are philosophical in nature:
Formalist Philosophy:
Truth of one kind cannot be used to support truth of another kind.
(p. 143)
Functionalist Philosophy:
All truth, of whatever sort, must ultimately cohere. (p. 144)
The philosophical nature of the differences implies that these two
approaches do not complement each other.

7. Conflicting Truths (Ken Hale, MIT)

"Total coherence would be miraculous (p.167)." A functional truth
may happen to be in conflict with a formal one. Overt nominals in
Navajo-- a pronominal argument language-- must not be adjuncts as it
is possible to extract from NP. Otherwise, the Condition on Extraction
Domains will be violated. On the other hand, some other data from
Navajo strongly suggest that such nominals must be adjuncts so that
no pronominal can c-command any overt nominal argument. Then some
coreference phenomena seem to be in conflict with Principle C of the
Binding Theory while some other suggest that the principle is observed
in Navajo.

8. Ergativity: Functional and formal issues (Alice Davison, University
of Iowa)

For the functionalist, ergative marking is the realization of some
communicative function. It may have something to do with the desire to
express the animacy or agency of the subject, or perhaps transitive
valency (focus on the object in contrast with the subject). The
formalist, on the other hand, considers Case marking to be subject to
formal licensing principles incorporated in Universal Grammar. Despite
that, formalist and functionalist concerns often converge. Then both
accounts contribute to the study of ergativity.

9. Usage-based Phonology (Joan L. Bybee, University of New Mexico)

Bernd Heine's Grocery Store Analogy according to which "there is a
basic teleology of grocery stores such that they are always trying
to have check-out lines of the same length (p.212)" is equally
applicable to language in that language universals are not necessarily
innate. They are simply the consequence of the way language is used
to communicate. Phonological regularities emerge as a result of some
aspects of speaking and thinking. In other words, in order to under-
stand phonology, one should study both phonetics and semantics since
"phonology associates with both of the substantive ends of language."
The frequency of tokens plays two apparently contradictory roles in
phonological changes. On the one hand, the frequent use of words
results in the phonological reduction of sounds in automated speech.
On the other hand, a higher frequency level for an irregular form
makes it more resistant towards a move to regularize such forms. Both
of these two effects require the representation of token frequency in
the lexicon. Thus "[t]he lexicon is highly affected by language use
(p. 225)." This interaction of language use with phonetic variation,
lexicon (and grammar) is in line with the principles of functionalism.

10. Phonetically Driven Phonology: The role of Optimality Theory
and Inductive Grounding (Bruce P. Hayes, UCLA)

Prince and Smolensky's Optimality Theory (1993) can serve as a bridge
between formalist and functionalist camps: while sharing the merits
of some other formal theories, e.g. falsifiability, and increasing
the pattern recognition capacity of the analyst, the theory incorpo-
rates general principles of markedness into language-specific analyses.
Phonology may be successfully reduced to phonetics most of the times.
It is through generalizing from experience that the learner can finally
construct phonetically grounded constraints. This 'inductive grounding'
favours those processes that are phonetically easy and prohibits those
that are phonetically hard. An algorithm -- Constraint Demotion --
ranks constraints so that one ranked low enough has no effects.
Optimality Theory, however, suggests that all such constraints might
be innate. This is not necessarily the case as inductive grounding
(or something like that) can make them accessible to the language
learner instead.

11. Formalizing Functionalism (Janet Pierrehumbert, Northwestern

These two papers by Bybee and Hayes are actually both functionalist
position papers. "Hayes has taken up the functionalist cause by
pursuing the general program of Ohala and Lindblom within the frame-
work of Optimality Theory (p.287)." The papers converge on (a) phono-
logical constraints as schematic descriptions of forms, (b) phonetic
properties as the vocabulary for phonological constraints, (c) phonetic
generalizations as the source of constraints on co-occurrence and
sequencing, and (d) the point that phonetics CANNOT explain everything
phonological. There are also important differences between Bybee and
Hayes: They understand the term 'functionalism' differently as for
Hayes optimization is local (contrastiveness and ease of articulation
of forms produced) rather than global. Bybee, on the other hand, does
not view optimization of language very seriously. Instead, she claims
that it is the actual instances of language use that shape linguistic
structures. Constraints, in this sense, can be the result of "external
scientific generalizations about the patterning that results from
speech processing (p. 289)" rather than being mental in nature.

12. What Functionalists can Learn from Formalists in Phonology
(Geoffrey S. Nathan, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale)

Although it was such functionalists as Baudouin de Courtenay and Edward
Sapir who established the phonemic-phonetic distinction in phonology,
some functionalists today simply dismiss the distinction as a formalist
invention. A functionalist phonology with no such distinction, however,
fails to explain what we know about phonological processing; that is,
phonological representations as the motor plans/acoustic images of what
we have stored in the long-term memory. Phonology in this sense "is the
gap between storage and production (p.311)" (or phonemic and phonetic
levels). The second lesson the functionalist can learn from the
formalist is the incorporation of a plausible psychological account of
rule ordering into the functionalist models of phonology (as Prince and
Smolensky have done in their Optimality Theory).

13. Lexical Frequency and Rhythm
(Michael Hammond, University of Arizona)

In an experiment on the possibility of rhythmic stress shift in English,
14 native speakers of the language were asked to decide on the
possibility of such stress shifts on 30 adjective-noun pairs. Adjectives
were chosen from high, medium, and low frequency ranges. Moreover,
"with-in each frequency range, half the items exhibited clear morphological
structure and the other half were either monomorphemic or exhibited only
rather obscure morphological relationships (p. 334)." Examples:
'ideal road' (high, simple) ; 'unknown chief' (high, complex)
'humane act' (medium, simple) ; 'unclean name' (medium complex)
'oblique view' (low, simple) ; 'nonskid street' (low, complex).
The results show that complex forms undergo stress shift more readily.
Although lexical frequency by itself had no main effect, there proved
to be a significant interaction between complexity and frequency; that
is, highly frequent words in the class of morphologically simple ones
were more likely to undergo the shift. The experiment suggests that
such functional factors as frequency can be well incorporated in an OT
model with lexical frequency as one of the factors affecting the
ranking of constraints.

14. Emergent Language (Brian MacWhinney, Carnegie Mellon University)

Using the supermarket analogy with checkout lines equal in length,
one can say that the rule that equalizes the number of shoppers
emerges from the basic facts of the scenario. Similarly, language
learning may be viewed as one in which linguistic rules are acquired
as "emergent patterns that arise from the interactions of other less
complex or more stable underlying systems (p. 362)." In a connection-
ist 'adaptive neural networks' model like Kohonen (1982) and
Miikkulainen's (1990) self-organizing feature map (SOFM), three types
of local maps --auditory, meaning, and articulatory maps-- are in-
volved so that the algorithm determines which particular node in a
map is the winner for a particular input pattern. The node that (by
chance) is maximally responsive to the pattern decreases the acti-
vation levels on other nodes. The more distant a node from the winner,
the lower its level of activation. This 'Mexican hat' pattern of
decrementation is quite compatible with "lateral inhibition and
redistribution of syntactic resources ... in cortical tissue (p.
368)." In one sample simulation with a 100 x 100 network, the system
could "learn up to 6000 phonological patterns with an error rate less
than 1%. The basic elements employed in this model, such as feature
maps, argument frames, and rehearsal loops, are similar to those of
neural structure and functioning.

15. Underspecification and Modularity in Early Syntax: A formalist
perspective on language acquisition (Nina Hyams, UCLA)

The early stage of language development (telegraphic stage) is
characterized by the omission of functional elements such as verbal
inflection, determiners, and subject pronouns. At the same time, such
elements are produced in other cases with a significant percentage of
occurrence. This suggests that the omission of such functional elements
cannot be due to a lack of grammatical knowledge. The Underspecification
Hypothesis is based on the assumption that "the functional heads, spe-
cefically T(ense) and D(et), are pronominal in nature (p. 402)." That
is, their references must be fixed (either via grammatical or pragmatic
marking). "(F)initeness does not need to be expressed in the early
grammar because children can make use of a pragmatic option for inter-
preting functional heads ... -- an option which is blocked in the
adult grammar (p. 403)." In the final run, the logical problem of
language acquisition still favours a formalist approach to language
acquisition. For instance, children produce wanna-contraction in object
questions, but they do not generalize the rule to subject questions.
Only a modular approach can account for this.

16. The Temporal Mediation of Structure and Function
(Mark Durie, University of Melbourne)

Form-function relations, which functionalists are interested in, are
mediated by temporal processes: (a) production/perception processes,
(b) language acquisition, (c) Diachronic changes, and (d) phylogeny.
These temporal domains are rooted in real time communication but
stored in different memory types: short-term memory, long-term memory
(somatic change), community memory, and finally species memory. Formal-
ist approaches that confine themselves to the atemporal structural
relations cannot be complete explanations. Such approaches fail to take
into consideration the evidence for linguistic adaptation. Zipf (1965)
observation that "(i) the physical size of words in discourse is in-
verslely proportional to frequency ..., and (ii) the number of different
words in discourse is inversely proportional to their occurrence
(p. 424)" is a good example of language emergence while it develops in
the context of use. The opacity of signifier-signified relation and
functional over-/under-generalization, however, suggest that "structure
generalizes beyond immediate motivations that may underlie it (p.434)."

17. Functionalism and Its Difficulties in Biology and Linguistics
(Daniel Nettle, Merton College, Oxford)

Linguistics and biology are parallel with respect to functionalism
in that for both adaptation is the result of the process of replication,
variation and selection. Structural patterns are passed from one
generation to another. But this replication is not perfect as random
errors and novel solutions to specific discourse problems leak in. The
linguistic equivalent of natural selection has something to do with
plasticity, economy, and communicational utility that language forms
can afford within the user's linguistic and cognitive system. These two
are also parallel in the difficulties of their functionalist models;
namely, (a) circularity, (b) social (in biology: sexual) selection,
(c) diversity, and (d) empirical inadequacy. How these problems have
been overcome in biology suggests that functionalism and formalism in
linguistics should not be considered as competitors but complements.

18. Some Remarks on the Functionalist-Formalist Controversy in
Linguistics (Fredrick J. Newmeyer, University of Washington)

Formalist and functionalist approaches can complement each other in
that the former is concerned with the autonomous system at the core
of language while the latter focuses on the functional motivation of
syntactic structures in general. Although a number of papers in this
volume (functionalist papers by Noonan, Payne, and Bybee) insist that
the gap between these two camps cannot be bridged, others consider
each approach to make significant contributions to the study of lan-
guage. Each approach has its own merits and demerits. Formalists'
focus on purely formal grammar-internal solutions has resulted in un-
naturally complex treatments of phenomena while functionalists go
to the other extreme of rejecting the existence of structural systems.
On the other hand, functionalists (rightly) incorporate some discourse-
based explanations for syntactic phenomena that may prove to be more
adequate than merely formalist accounts of language. But formalists
do not forget that there are serious mismatches between forms and
functions. These two approaches can converge on (a) what a model is
constructed of, (b) developing a synchronic model of grammar-discourse
interaction, and (c) explaining the mechanism by which functions shape

19. Mapping So-called "Pragmatic" Phenomena According to a "Linguistic-
Extralinguistic" Distinction: The case of propositions marked
"accessible" (Mira Ariel, Tel-Aviv University)

The 'grammar-pragmatics' distinction is replaced here by the
'linguistic-extralinguistic' distinction to capture the differences
between linguistic coding and inferential processing. The data on
Hebrew 'harey'(after all)-- a discourse marker signaling the informa-
tion the speaker assumes to be somehow accessible to the addressee but
still necessary to be provided -- its meaning is pragmatic rather than
semantic. "Semantic meaning is conceptual, truth-functional, convention-
al and fast. Linguistic meaning is conventional, automatic and fast, but
not necessarily truth-functional and not necessarily conceptual (p.31)."

20. Lexis, Grammar, and Grammatical Change: The Koyukon classifier
prefixes (Melissa Axelrod, University of New Mexico)

The classifier prefix of Koyukon, an Alaskan language, is examined here
both formally and functionally. From a formalist point of view, it
obligatorily marks "unmotivated abstract morphological categories,
regular in form if opaque in function (p.45)." From a functionalist
point of view, only diachronic examination of the data reveals the
logic of the system. The semantics of the prefix is associated with
lexical or derivational items in the language. As the prefix has been
more and more inflectionalized, its meaning has merged more and more
with that of the stem.

21. The Limits of Formal Analysis: Pragmatic motivation in Oromo grammar
(Robbin Clamons, Ann E. Mulkern, Gerald Sanders, Nancy Stenson,
University of Minnesota)

Case and verb-agreement markers in Oromo (Ethiopia) are more satis-
factorily explained if case is analysed in formal terms and agreement
markers in a functional one: case marking is merely a function of
sentence structure while verb-agreement should be explained in reference
to topicality. For instance, "where the subject expresses new informa-
tion, agreement is never marked on the verb (p. 61)." Instead of
postulating a new (formal) feature to account for the phenomenon, it
is wiser to explain that in functional terms. Then functionalism and
formalism are complementary in this respect.

22. Form and Function in Syntax: Relative clauses in Tsez (Bernard
Comrie, University of South California; Maria Polinsky, University
of California, San Diego)

Relativization in Tsez (a Nakh-Daghestanian language) is possible on
a good number of constituents of a main clause such as subject, object,
and various obliques. But significantly, it is NOT always possible to
do so. The constraints seem to be functional rather than formal:
"[T]he plausibility of a particular relative clause in a language
like Tsez that lacks syntactic constraints is determined primarily
by the availability of the corresponding head noun in the frame of
the lexical items in question (p. 85)."

23. Formalizing Functionally (Kees Hengeveld, University of Amsterdam)

Dik's Functional Grammar is employed here as a functional but formal-
izing model in the analysis of tense, mood, aspect, and complement
clauses. Different types of operators ("abstract elements representing
semantic distinctions expressed by grammatical means (p. 96)") are
employed to modify different units of clause structure: illocution
operators (e.g. Reinforcement), proposition operators (e.g. Eviden-
tiality), predication operators (e.g. Tense, Reality), and Predicate
operators (e.g. Aspect).

24. Representing the Structure-Discourse Iconicity of the Japanese
Post-Verbal Construction (Lizanne Kaiser, Yale University)

Both formalist and functionalist accounts are needed in order to
explain the Japanese PVC. From a formal point of view, PVCs are subject
to such structural constraints on movement as Subjacency. From a
functional point of view, there are certain discourse contexts and not
others in which some PVCs can occur. Kuno (1978), for instance, con-
siders "a PV element (to) be discourse-predictable (p.111)." Vallduvi's
theory of Informatics may serve as the basis for a unified explanation
of the PVC in terms of iconicity with both formal and functional pro-

25. Between Irregular and Regular: "Imperfect generalizations" in
Istanbul Turkish and the status of phonological rules (Nicholas
Kibre, University of California)

Some Istanbul Turkish words with /p, t, sh, k/ in the final position
of their uninflected forms replace these sounds with their voiced
counterparts. According to Lees' (1961) formalist analysis of the data,
"words with final voiceless-voiced plosive alternations have underlying
final /b, d, d3, g/, which are subject to a final devoicing rule (p.
140)." The analysis, however, "fails to capture the word-size and
source-language generalizations which partially predict the status of
root-final consonants (p. 140)." This requires a new approach to the
allomorphic phonology of the language with both formal and functional

26. Constraints on Constraints, or Limits of Functional Adaptation
(Simon Kirby, University of Edinburgh)

Relative clauses belong to different categories depending upon the
function (subject/object) of the wh- trace of the relative pronoun.
Four different categories of relative clauses (SS, SO, OS, and OO)
are recognized where the abbreviations stand for 'Matrix subject,
subject relative', 'Matrix subject, object relative', 'Matrix object,
object relative', and 'Matrix object, object relative' respectively.
Keenan and Hawkins (1987) propose the hierarchy of accessibility
{SS, OS}>{SO, OO} with (OO v SO) --> (SS v OS) as an implicational
universe. "The fact that there are no languages with OO relatives but
no SO relatives or no languages with SS relatives but no OS relatives
poses serious problems for the functional approach (p. 158)."

27. Structure-preservation and Transitivity: The case of Chinese 'ba'
sentences (Feng-hsi Liu, University of Arizona)

>From a formalistic point of view, 'ba' marks specificity and boundedness
while in a more functionalist approach, it signals high transitivity.
The functional explanation is inadequate in that some 'ba' predicates do
not show high transitivity. Despite that, the functional account is
compatible with the formal one as "both stress the correlation between
the predicate and the argument (p.200)."

28. Topicality and Agreement (Andre Meinunger, ZAS, Berlin)

Functionalism and formalism complement each other in this respect as
formalism affords a grammatical description of agreement (e.g. in terms
of Chomsky's Minimalist Program) while the phenomenon can be explained
functionally in reference to Givon's understanding of topicality. The
paper proposes that "the properties which characterize the degree of
topicality of a given noun phrase are linked to concrete morphological
features ... which trigger certain operations like movement or clitic
doubling (p. 213)." Examples on the differences between Spanish and
Greek, and object shift in Icelandic and Danish are provided in support
of the proposal.

29. Explanatory Power of Functional and Formal Approaches to Language
Change: The evolution of the passive structure 'ser' + past part-
iciple in Colonial Spanish (Viola G. Miglio, University of Mary-
land at College Park)

A functionalist analysis of the decline of the passive with 'ser' +
past participle suggests that in this passive structure it is the
pragmatic shift in salience of the arguments that matters rather than
any semantic change in the transitive event. "[I]t could either denote
an upgrading of the patient ... or a demotion of the agent ..., or both
(p. 228)." However, the 'ser' passive fell in decline as it became
clumsy to use with the agent in the PP and vague when it was more fixed
in syntax. A more formal analysis of the decline explains it in
reference to economy as a trigger for acquisition. Both approaches are
descriptively adequate but the functionalist approach offers more em-
pirical data.

30. Functional Optimality Theory: Evidence from split case systems
(Wataru Nakamura, University of Electro-Communications)

The majority of ergative languages show some sort of split pattern in
their case systems. An attempt is made here to provide a unified account
of the phenomenon in terms of Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky
1993) and Role and Reference Grammar (Van Valin 1993). A set of uni-
versal case marking constraints are proposed with language-specific
constraint ranking as the result of a compromise between grammar-
external factors such as economy and iconicity. OT in this respect,
allows some bridging between formalist and functionalist frameworks.
Data from the Dyirbal language are analysed and presented in OT con-
straint tableaux.

31. Welsh Soft Mutation and Marked Word Order (Maggie Tallerman, Uni-
versity of Durham)

Soft mutation in Welsh is an initial consonantal change of /p, t, k, b,
d, .../ to /b, d, g, v, th (dd), .../ respectively occurring "on the
head of a phrase when the word order within that phrase is marked;
mutation indicates that a head and its modifier occur in a marked word
order (p. 278)." Borsley and Tallerman (1996) had hypothesized that "any
phrasal category XP is a trigger for soft mutation (p. 278)." The hypo-
thesis fails to explain certain cases of the mutation as the non-mutual
c-command condition for the trigger and target is not met. The paper
argues that mutation in such cases is "a functional strategy which en-
ables the parser to recognize the head of the phrase (p. 292)" when the
word order is marked.

32. A Functional Journey with a Formal Ending: What do brow raises do
in American Sign Language? (Ronnie Wilbur, Purdue University)

After a critical examination of a functionalist approach to 'br' in ASL
- one that considers 'br' to mark non-asserted information, it is argued
that there is some syntactic motivation behind 'br'. Using a minimalist
framework of study, it is hypothesized that " br-marked structures are
associated ... with [-wh] operators (p. 305)." The brow furrow (bf), on
the other hand, is still assumed to be associated with [+wh] operators
spreading across the c-command domain (Aarons et al 1992).

33. Formalism or Functionalism? Evidence from the study of language
development (Erika Hoff-Ginsberg, Florida Atlantic University)

The association of formalism with nativism and functionalism with
empiricism is not a logical necessity. Three language acquisition
studies reported in this paper (Hoff-Ginsberg 1986, 1990, in press)
suggest that (a) Syntax acquisition rate is related to the nature of
the input children receive, (b) properties of maternal speech relevant
to syntax acquisition rate are of both communicative and structural
types, and (c) The rates of syntax development and conversational
skills development do not necessarily correlate. "Together this evi-
dence argues for rejecting the strong nativism that is associated with
formalism and also for rejecting functionalism as the explanation of
the acquisition of syntax (p. 337)."

34. Functional Innateness: Explaining the critical period for language
acquisition (James R. Hurford, University of Edinburgh)

Two computer simulation studies of language acquisition -- one support-
ing nativism (Hurford 1991), and another supporting a functionalist
approach (Elman 1993)-- are brought together in this paper. Hurford's
results "yielded the evolution, under several sets of condition, of a
clear critical period effect, with most language acquisition capacity
concentrated in the pre-puberty lifestages, and a sharp decline there-
after (p. 248)." Elman's study, on the other hand, suggests that it
is due to the limited 'working memory' of the system in initial stages
that acquisition is made possible ( as such a limited memory cannot
attend those sentences that are too complicated to process then). "In
a human interpretation of Elman's scenario, a child's 'working memory'
expands from very small to an adult value over the period during which
language is acquired (p. 351)." These two different accounts of language
development are compatible in that one (Hurford's) answers the 'when?'
question about the critical period while the other focuses on the
'what?' question.

35. The Holophrastic Hypothesis Revisited: Structural and functional
approaches (Elizabeth Purnell, Indiana University)

A functionalist approach to holophrases -- 'single word utterances
by young children which seem to express more than just the meaning of
the lexical item itself (p. 365)'-- assumes that such utterances are
employed to perform a variety of functions but they do not represent any
structural complexity (as formalists postulate). Arguments for the

formalist position include (a) comprehension precedence (to production),
(b) temporal proximity (of two single-word utterances), (c) progressive
acquisition, and (d) arbitrary adult expansions. Using a categorial
grammar analysis, the paper argues that children's intonational tunes
determine different structures underlying holophrases. The prosodic
features in question also mark different communicative functions.


Although the papers included in the collection -whether formalist,
functionalist, or eclectic-- are theoretically and/or empirically
very interesting contributions to the field, the work fails to offer a
coherent dialogue between the formalist and the functionalist. The
reader expects to find such a work much more organized than the
proceedings of a conference as the organizers of the symposium at
Milwaukee had already set topics to some contributors so that the papers
(at least many of them in the first volume) could represent the
functionalist and formalist approaches to issues of controversy. But
the contributions fail to be compatible in this respect.

Noonan's 'Non-structuralist Syntax' (rightly, I think) approaches the
functionalist-formalist controversy in quite general and programmatic
terms so that the reader learns about the way a functionalist sees the
world. Lasnik's, on the other hand, focuses on a very specific syntactic
issue that is not compatible with Noonan's at all. Interestingly enough,
Lasnik begins his paper with the disclaimer "I'm not certain that this
will be a 'formalist position paper' and wide in scope as Noonan's. It
is not very surprising, then, that Abraham in his discussant paper on
the first two papers has almost nothing interesting to say about the
papers in question. I wonder why Lasnik's paper appears in the first
volume because it is not more general in perspective than many other
papers in Vol. II. It is a case study of (mainly) English local
constraints on movement and how a pure processing account of such
constraints (like Givon's) fails, full stop.

Hale's and Davison's discussant papers (the first on word order, the
other on ergativity) are not very useful either as the formalist
paper on the former and both the functionalist and formalist position
papers on the latter are not included in the collection, because their
authors decided not to submit their contributions for publication. This
has actually devastated the intended structure of the whole collection.

The work is also far from being error-free. Some papers, like Alice
Davison's "Ergativity: Functional and formal issues", contain obvious
typographical and editing mistakes.

The incoherent discourse between the functionalist and formalist here,
however, seems to be mainly due to the general deficiency of both
in formulating their positions rather than the shortcomings of this
specific work. I think the generativist paradigm has not been very
successful in solving its own puzzles recently. Thomas Kuhn (1970) had
considered puzzles to be a "special category of problems that can serve
to test ingenuity or skill in solution. ... The really pressing
e.g. a cure for cancer or the design of a lasting peace, are often not
puzzles at all, largely because they may not have any solutions (pp. 36-
37)." The ever-increasing number of anomalies we formalists witness day
by day as theoretical tinkering is practiced more and more to 'stop
the leaks'-- successive revisions of minimalist syntax, syntactic
'feats' to save the checking theory and Chomsky's thesis of movement,
vaguely (if ever) defined terms that prove one after another to be
'dubious' such as strength, EPP-features, delete, erase, and ... just
to name the most typical ones-- all and all suggest that linguistics
today is already in the middle of a scientific crisis. As Kuhn put it,
"the emergence of new theories is generally preceded by a period of
pronounced professional insecurity. ... [T]hat insecurity is generated
by the persistent failure of the puzzles of normal science to come out
as they should (pp. 67-68)."

There is still no good reason for functionalists to celebrate either!
As Elizabeth Bates put it (quoted in Newmeyer, 1998), "functionalism
is like Protestantism: it is a group of warring sects which agree only
on the rejection of the authority of the Pope." Functionalist papers
in this collection reveal that they are far from being unanimous among
themselves with regard to any tenet Noonan has listed in his program-
matic functionalist paper. Bybee's account of such inconsistencies --
"Obviously there was, and still is, more than one idea about what
functionalism is (Vol. I, p. 212)")-- is educational in this respect.
Moreover, an alternative candidate for a paradigm is expected to be
definitely superior to the older theory in solving problems. It is hard-
ly enough for such a candidate to solve some and 'unslove' some others
as formalists seem to do.
The lessons I learned from both functionalist and formalist papers in
this work are:
(i) To talk is one thing, to communicate another.
(ii) Formalism has not expired yet.
(iii) Functionalism in its present state cannot be 'the alternative
candidate' for the generativist paradigm.
(iv) The wisest thing to do is look forward to insights into linguistic
phenomena from both camps,
(v) ... and wait.


Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (second
edition, enlarged). The University of Chicago Press.
Newmeyer, F. J. (1998). Language Form and Language Function.
Cambridge: the MIT Press.

Reviewer: Dr. Ahmad R. Lotfi, Assistant Professor at the English
Department of Esfahan Azad University, where he teaches Linguistics
to graduate students of TESOL. His research interests lie in minimalist
syntax, second language acquisition studies in generative grammar, and
Persian linguistics.