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"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more



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Discussion Details




Title: Re: Major Discoveries of
Submitter: Martin Haspelmath
Description: In my view, the major discovery of post-1957 ''syntactic theory'' is not
''theoretical'', but methodological: That a huge amount of generalizations
can best be found by adopting an ''experimental'' approach. In the 19th
century and the first half of the 20th, syntacticians almost exclusively
worked with corpora, and thus were limited to an ''observational''
approach. But just as morphological description requires elicitation to get
complete paradigms (in many languages), so does syntactic description, to
get the full richness of the ''syntactic paradigms'' (in all languages).

(Let us hope that this lesson will not be forgotten, now that corpus-based
approaches are becoming more prominent again, for good reasons having to do
with technological innovations.)

In addition to this methodological discovery, there were many claims about
''theories'', ''principles'', ''architectures'', and so on, but these have
always been largely speculative, and unlikely to stand the test of time.

What remains of the published body of research is the empirical part. So
all the papers that are neatly divided into a ''data/generalizations'' part
and an ''analysis'' part have a good chance of continuting to be useful:
Future linguists can read the first part and stop reading where the
analysis begins.

Martin Haspelmath

(P.S. It's odd to say that ''modern syntax'' started with Saussure, as does
Everett, because Saussure did not really work on syntax. I think it's
fairer to say that it started with Delbrück's comparative Indo-European
syntax, although this was pre-structuralist.)
Date Posted: 11-Aug-2006
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
LL Issue: 17.2304
Posted: 11-Aug-2006

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