LINGUIST List 3.323

Tue 07 Apr 1992

Disc: Rules & Brain, Saussure

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  1. "Larry G. Hutchinson", Re: 3.309 Rules: Evidence, Brain, Reality
  2. , Re: 3.309 Rules: Evidence, Brain, Reality
  3. , The use of langage

Message 1: Re: 3.309 Rules: Evidence, Brain, Reality

Date: Sat, 4 Apr 92 12:17:35 -06Re: 3.309 Rules: Evidence, Brain, Reality
From: "Larry G. Hutchinson" <>
Subject: Re: 3.309 Rules: Evidence, Brain, Reality

Slogan: FACTS do not become EVIDENCE (for or against a theory) unless the
 theory is about those facts.

An example from linguistics: for many theories of syntax/semantics, the facts
to be accounted for are facts about grammaticality, ambiguity, paraphrase,
entailment, and the like. A grammar that claims that "I heard the girl
playing my song" is ungrammatical, or that it is only two ways ambiguous, is
wrong. The fact that 50% of a particular group of English speakers may deny
that it is ambiguous at all is outside the scope of such theories. But it is
quite relevant to theories which are about the judgments actual speakers
actually make.

Similarly, facts about speech errors are not evidence with regard to
phonological theories unless those theories are about speech production.

If a theory is not in truth about a class of facts, there will be a human
tendency to cite such facts when one can IMAGINE how they might be relevant
enough to be confirming of one's theory, and to ignore them whenever they
seem disconfirming. Surely we can all cite instances of this in the
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Message 2: Re: 3.309 Rules: Evidence, Brain, Reality

Date: Mon, 6 Apr 1992 08:03:15 +Re: 3.309 Rules: Evidence, Brain, Reality
From: <>
Subject: Re: 3.309 Rules: Evidence, Brain, Reality

Avery Andrews writes in 3.309:

>How could there
>be all the evidence there is for noun phrases if there wasn't some
>single facet of mental structure responsible for the (Det) Adj* N PP*
>etc. sequences showing up all over the place? How there be all the
>evidence there is for (some kind of) Wh-movement (a wide range
>of constituent types appearing in a normal version, and another
>differing for the most part only in the presence of a hole), if
>there wasn't some sort of rule or principle capable of making holes?

The rhetorical-question form indicates that Andrews considers this
obviously true(?) I would agree that this sounds like interesting
hypotheses (to the extent that terms like 'facet of mental structure' can
be made precise). My point is that they are not *grammatical* hypotheses:
they are not hypotheses about grammatical properties of English.

Imagine a future discovery to the effect that the production of NPs is
*not* correlated with a single 'facet of mental structure', but is
distributed among various 'facets' according to principles bearing no
relation to grammatical properties. Or, alternatively, imagine that these
correlations vary significantly from one speaker to another. Would any of
this lead us to revise our grammar for English? Would it lead us to
conclude that the category NP does not really exist after all? It would
not, and it should not. Our basis for *grammatical* descriptions remains
the same: regularities in the linguistic expressions produced according to
the social norms for correct use and interpretation of such expressions. If
NPs are among the social objects collectively constructed and interpreted
by speakers, why should facts about brains stop linguists from referring to

Hypotheses about single 'facets of mental structure' being correlated with
single grammatical objects are not grammatical hypotheses, but hypotheses
about the relationship between two domains: the mental and the grammatical.
Theories about the mental correlates of grammar *presuppose* grammatical
theories, but they *are* not grammatical theories. From the point of view
of such theories, grammars do not explain - they define what is to be

Helge Dyvik
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Message 3: The use of langage

Date: Mon, 06 Apr 92 18:55:04 BSThe use of langage
From: <>
Subject: The use of langage

I defer to John_E_Joseph's opinion (3.309/3) on the detail of Saussure's
linguistic philosophy; not least because I do not wish us to lose touch
with the more interesting question of mind-brain-linguistic rules. My
intervention (3.297/2) was not intended to be an exegesis of Saussure's
teaching, but arose from a wish to run a tangential view of that central
question as it had already been formulated nearly a century ago.
 In doing so, I could not have overlooked John_E_Joseph's fine discussion
(3.276/1) of Saussure as sociolinguist. It would have been wasteful to have
taken no account of the (3.276/1) argument for the status of _langue_ as "fait
social". Supplemented by my reminder that Saussure claimed for _langue_ also
the status of trigger or motivator ("La faculte du langage est un fait distinct
de la langue, mais qui ne peut s'exercer sans elle") it should then have been
impossible to overlook the way in which Saussure came to view the
_langue/langage_ dichotomy: _langue_ being the location of the _intrinsic
(or "integrative") motivation_; _langage_ the potential for knowledge of
language. The difficulty of determining equivalences between _langue_/_langage_
and _competence_ or _I-language_ lies, as I have certainly pointed out, not in
Saussure's evolving linguistic thought but in the persistence with which
linguists misguidedly paraphrase the human capacity for (knowledge of) language
by (assumed countable, unleaky languages -"les langues"). If, because of the
way that Saussure has been "written up", there is some difficulty in accepting
my view that Saussure's contrast of _langue_/_langage_ is comparable with, say,
the _KOL_ _E-language_/_I-language_ contrast, I must (for fear of outrunning my
reader's patience) leave the question by simply asking what else the lexical
contrast of _langue_/_langage_ introduced by Saussure could have meant.
 There are two assumptions about Saussure on which John_E_Joseph cannot be
allowed to go unchallenged. Firstly, his suggestion that 1891 was "well before
[Saussure] had worked out his system." We must not forget Note 6 "Caracteres
du langage". Secondly, John_E_Joseph overlooks Saussure's intellectual courage
in that positivistic age; one example being his replacement of _concept_ and
_image acoustique_ by (respectively) _signifie_ and _signifiant_. Can there be
any possibility that a linguist who by 1911 was writing of, and teaching, about
(abstract) processes of language, would have regarded both_langue_ and
_langage_ as equally concrete?
 We are all monists as we set out, brain and mind are one. But our
intellectual evolution, like Saussure's, drives us ineluctably towards dualism.
The ambiguity here between human being and linguist is intended. What difference
would it make to our understanding of the status linguistic rules if we saw our
job to explain the individual's construction of language, constrained by the
social perception of _langue_?
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