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Review of  Simpler Syntax

Reviewer: Edward McDonald
Book Title: Simpler Syntax
Book Author: Peter W. Culicover Ray Jackendoff
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 17.718

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Date: Sun, 26 Feb 2006 15:18:20 +0800 (CST)
From: Edward McDonald
Subject: Simpler Syntax

AUTHORS: Culicover, Peter W.; Jackendoff, Ray
TITLE: Simpler Syntax
SERIES: Oxford Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2005

Edward McDonald, School of Asian Studies, University of Auckland


This book attempts a thorough historically-informed re-evaluation of
the syntactic theorising of the past half century within the generative
tradition. Culicover and Jackendoff (hereafter C & J), whose links go
back to their student days at MIT in the 1960s, have collaborated on a
number of previous joint projects, and the current study represents a
reworking of some of their previous collaborations (dealt with in Parts
III and IV of this book) set within an original approach to syntactic
theorising and description which they have dubbed ''Simpler Syntax''
(Parts I and II). The present review will focus on the metatheoretical
aspect of C & J's account, examining how they justify their approach in
contrast to other generative theories as set out in Parts I and II and
the final summary Chapter 15 of Part IV.

The origins of the Simpler Syntax approach lie back in the days of the
Generative Semantics-Interpretive Semantics ''wars'' -- on which the
two authors, ''as befit [their] position as Chomsky's students, naturally
[took] the Interpretive side'' (p. xiv) - when it seemed to them that ''the
Interpretive position was leading generative grammar toward a leaner
syntax with less complex derivations, and that a great deal of the work
of predicting grammatical distribution would be pushed into the
lexicon, into semantics, and into what were then called ''projection
rules''...i.e. the rules that mediate between syntax and meaning'' (p.
xiv). They see the Simpler Syntax approach as a ''contemporary
version of Interpretive Semantics'' (p. xiv) which follows an
interpretation of Occam's Razor, that ''important criterion for
theoretical success'' (p. 4), that is in contrast with other previous and
current approaches. The authors identify the following possibilities In
the area of syntactic theories for conforming to Occam's Razor -- ''Do
not multiply (theoretical) entities beyond necessity'' (p. 4, relevant
theories and theorists added in parentheses):
a. Minimize the distinct components of grammar (Postal: Generative
b. Minimize the class of possible grammars (Chomsky: Interpretive
c. Minimize the distinct principles of grammar (Chomsky: Principles
and Parameters Theory, The Minimalist Program)
d. Minimize the amount of structure generated by the grammar
(Simpler Syntax)

The authors claim that ''the most explanatory syntactic theory is one
that imputes the minimum structure necessary to mediate between
phonology and meaning'' (p. 5) and that such a theory provides ''a
vision of the language faculty that better facilitates the integration of
linguistic theory with concerns of processing, acquisition, and
biological evolution'' (p. xiv). The basic thrust of their approach can be
summed up as follows (p. 5):
''... given some phenomenon that has provided putative evidence for
elaborate syntactic structure, there nevertheless exist numerous
examples which demonstrably involve semantic or pragmatic factors...
[and thus] given a suitable account of the syntax-semantics interface,
all cases of the phenomenon in question are [to be] accounted for in
terms of the relevant properties of semantics/pragmatics''.

C & J frame their call for a major realignment of the field very
persuasively from both empirical and historical points of view, arguing
on the one hand that such a model provides a more economical
account of the facts and thus a more feasible object for learner
acquisition, and on the other that what they are doing amounts to
a ''recorrection'' of certain unhelpful and complexifying directions
generative grammar has taken since the mid 1960s. They identify as
the ''overall questions addressed by this book'' the following, which
could in fact be taken as programmatic for ANY syntactic
theory: ''What is the role of syntax in the grammar vis-à-vis semantics,
and what are the consequences for syntactic structure?'' (p. xiv).
They position Simpler Syntax (hereafter abbreviated SS) as one of a
group of what they call ''alternative generative theories'' which have all
developed out of and identify themselves as in opposition
to ''mainstream generative grammar'' (MGG) (p. 3). The view within SS
of the ''syntactic component'' is ''thoroughly within the generative
tradition'' but at the same time ''markedly at odds'' with ''views of
syntax'' that have developed within MGG (p. 3).

C & J still subscribe to most of the ''first principles of generative
grammar'', which they claim ''have stood the test of time and have
received further confirmation through the flood of research in cognitive
science in the past forty years'' (p. 9). These principles include a
fundamental orientation towards a ''mentalistic account of language'';
the positing of a distinction in the brain between a ''finite basis'', the
lexicon, and a ''productive system'', the grammar; a further distinction
between ''the user's knowledge of his or her language'', competence,
and the ''processing strategies by which this knowledge is put to use'',
performance; and a focus on ''how speakers acquire their grammar
and lexicon'', acquisition (p. 10). While the SS model retains the
mentalistic and acquisitional focus of its generative forebears, it
replaces the categorial distinction between a ''regular'' grammar and
an ''exceptional'' lexicon (stemming ultimately from Bloomfield) with a
conception of the two as forming a continuum, alongside a greater
emphasis on the peripheral aspects of grammar in terms of the
analogous distinction between the ''periphery'' and the ''core'' of the
grammar (p. 25). It also puts more focus on the cognitive aspects of
language by requiring that a ''theory of competence should be
embedded in a theory of performance -- including a theory of the
neural realization of linguistic memory and processing'' (p. 10).

As the name ''Simpler Syntax'' would suggest, a recurring theme in the
book is the notion of ''simplicity'' and how that has been interpreted
differently in different theories. In carrying out this comparison, mostly
between MGG and SS, but also on occasion between SS and
other ''alternative generative theories'' such as Lexical Functional
Grammar, Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar, Construction
Grammar, Autolexical Syntax, and Role and Reference Grammar, C &
J distinguish two major ''aspects'' of theorising which they name
the ''technological'' and the ''conceptual''. The technological aspect of
a theory refers to the ''formal devices...a theory adopt[s] for its
description of language'' (p. 4); while the conceptual, ''deeper and
more difficult to characterize precisely'', refers to the ''theory's vision of
what language is ''like'' '' (pp. 3-4). C & J characterize the kind of
simplification put forward in SS as a ''Toolkit Hypothesis'' whereby
the ''characterization of syntactic structure requires a multitude of
principles, of varying degrees of regularity'', contrasting this with
the '''Galilean vision' of an extremely simple Grand Unified Theory''
put forward in MGG's Minimalist Program (pp. 4-5).

In putting forward the SS model, C & J reject two of the basic
methodological principles of MGG: Interface Uniformity, and Structural
Uniformity. The first, Interface Uniformity, is basically an extension of
the Katz-Postal Hypothesis (Katz & Postal 1964 -- see discussion on
p. 48), and requires the ''syntax-semantic interface'' to be ''maximally
simple'', in that ''meaning maps transparently into syntactic structure''
and ''maximally uniform'', so that ''the same meaning always maps onto
the same syntactic structure'' (p. 6) In order to account for the regular
mismatches between syntactic structure and meaning, MGG is then
required to ''introduce a ''hidden'' or ''underlying'' level of syntax'',
known at different times in the history of MGG as ''deep structure''
or ''logical form'', that ''maps directly onto semantics and is related
derivationally to surface form'' (p. 7). In contrast, the SS approach
claims that there is ''no syntactic structure beyond that present at the
surface'' and that the ''syntax-semantics the
[necessary] details of interpretation'' in line with
the ''semantic/pragmatic structure'' of utterances (p. 7). The second,
Structural Uniformity, also posits ''a ''hidden'' or ''underlying'' level of
syntax'', claiming that an ''apparently defective or misordered [surface]
structure is regular in underlying structure and becomes distorted in
the course of derivation'' (p. 7). In contrast, an SS approach again
rejects the necessity for an underlying level of syntax, ''licensing''
syntactically ''ill-formed utterances'' in relation to ''semantic/pragmatic
factors rather than syntactic ones'' (p. 8). From an SS point of view,
MGG accounts of syntax that assume Interface Uniformity and
Structural Uniformity end up ''increasing rather than decreasing the
overall complexity of the grammar'' (p. 9).

SS also shares with MGG the identification of the ''most important
goal'' of linguistic theory as the characterization of the first principles
of the generative tradition -- i.e. mentalism, the relation of competence
to performance, acquisition, and innateness -- under the rubric
of ''Universal Grammar'' (UG) or the ''language capacity'', defined from
an acquisitional point of view as ''guidelines along which to pursue
generalization -- a pre-narrowing of the class of possible analyses of
the [child learner's] input'' (p. 11). However they take issue with
Chomsky's identification of ''real progress in linguistics'' as ''the
discovery that certain features of given languages can be reduced to
universal properties of language, and explained in terms of these
deeper aspects of linguistic form'' (Chomsky 1965: 35), claiming
that ''a theory of language stands a better chance of being learnable if
its syntax can be shown to have less abstract machinery such as extra
nodes, hidden elements and covert movements'' (pp. 11-12). They
also identify another kind of ''real progress'' in the ''discovery of how
certain features of given languages, for which there is no UG input,
can nevertheless be learned by the child from the input'', the most
obvious of these being the ''voluminous facts of vocabulary'' (p. 12).
Such an approach obviously also has implications for explaining the
evolution of language: C & J do not deal much with issues
of ''processing, acquisition and evolution'' in the current study,
referring the reader to their previous work on the Foundations of
Language (Jackendoff 2002) and Dynamical Grammar (Culicover &
Novak 2003).

C & J then go on to characterise the ''architecture of the grammar'' in
SS, in another words, ''an articulation of the grammar into rule types''
and a delimitation of ''the significant levels of linguistic representation''
(p. 14) and contrast the SS model with MGG under four headings:
constraints rather than derivations; no ''hidden'' levels of syntax;
multiple sources of combinatoriality; and the representation of
meaning formally as a level of Conceptual Structure. In terms of the
distinction between technological and conceptual aspects of theory
introduced above, the first feature relates to the ''technology'' of
representing syntactic structure. MGG does this in terms of
derivations whereby ''linguistic structures are constructed by applying
a sequence of rules, each applying to the output of the previous step'';
there is in this view an ''inherent directionality in the logic of sentence
construction'' (p. 15). In contrast, SS works in terms of constraints
whereby ''each constraint determines or licenses a small piece of
linguistic structure or relation between two small pieces'', with the
structure being ''acceptable'' overall ''if it conforms to all applicable
constraints'': such an approach requires ''no logical ordering among
constraints'' and therefore ''readily lends itself to interpretations in
terms of performance'' (p. 15). The derivational versus constraint-
based distinction between MGG and SS relates to a further contrast
between the ''hidden levels'' posited by MGG, and noted in the
discussion of Interface Uniformity and Structural Uniformity above, as
opposed to the ''monostratal'' model of SS, the latter providing a more
realistic model for acquisition.

In terms of the overall architecture of the grammar, C & J characterize
MGG as ''syntactocentric'', in other words, ''the combinatorial
properties of phonology and semantics are characterized entirely in
terms of the way they are derived from syntactic structure'' (p. 17). SS
in contrast has a ''parallel architecture'' which consists of ''parallel
generative components, stated in constraint based form'' of
phonology, syntax and semantics, ''each of which creates its own type
of combinatorial complexity''. The structures generated by these
separate components are mapped onto each other by means
of ''interface components'', and the ''lexicon'' cuts across all three,
with ''lexical items...inserted simultaneously into the three structures''
or in an alternative conception ''licensing a connection between
fragments of the three structures'' (pp. 18-19). Above all this is an
overarching ''Conceptual Structure'' which is ''not part of language per
se'' but is rather the ''mental structure which language encodes into
communicable form'', encoding such concepts as ''the categories in
terms of which the world is understood, and the relations among
various individuals and categories'' (p. 20). If ''independently motivated
distinctions in Conceptual Structure are sufficient to account for a
linguistic structure...there is no reason to duplicate them in syntactic
structure'' (p. 21): the SS model thus requires a ''theory of syntax with
the minimum structure necessary to map between phonology and
meaning'' (p. 22).

Having in Chapter 1 set out the basic tenets of the SS theory in
contrast to the MGG tradition, C & J then go on in Chapter 2 and 3 to
carry out an admirably clear and -- as far as I can judge at least --
even-handed historical reappraisal of the ''principles and history of
mainstream syntax''. This account serves as a useful adjunct to the
more detailed studies of the Generative/Interpretive Semantics
debates given in Harris 1993 or Huck & Goldsmith 1995, and also as a
generally sympathetic although highly critical take on more recent
developments like the Minimalist Program, treated more harshly in
works like Seuren 2004. A particularly useful feature of these
chapters -- which I will not attempt even to summarise here -- are the
regular summary diagrams, which show how particular theoretical
assumptions led on to, or provided the basis for, later developments
(for example, Fig 20 on p. 61 or Fig. 49 on p. 72).

Chapter 4 then lays out in detail the ''Flat Structure'' model of SS. To
briefly summarize it here, syntactic structure in SS is taken to be
a ''linearized hierarchical tree structure whose nodes consist of
syntactic features'' (p. 108). In contrast to common practice in MGG
and other theories, the ''terminal nodes'' in each tree are not ''full
lexical items'' but rather ''the purely syntactic features of lexical items'',
with the ''phonological and semantic features of words'' appearing only
in the ''phonological and semantic structure respectively'' (pp. 108-
109). (This is in line with the ''combinatorial autonomy'' of these three
main levels in SS whereby each generates its own combinatorial
structures - cf pp. 17-18.) These terminal nodes are ''chosen from the
set of Xo (or lexical) various affixal categories that
consist of complexes of grammatical features'' (p. 110). ''Major'' lexical
categories are ''characteristically dominated by a phrasal category
XP'', the Xo category being the ''head of the XP'', while ''minor'' lexical
categories ''do not (generally) have associated phrasal nodes'' (p.
110). Along with MGG's ''hidden levels'' of syntax, SS also ''give[s] up
entirely the notion of movement in syntax'' with ''what MGG has
treated as syntactic movement from position X to position Y [being]
replaced by a principle in the interface'' which specifies that ''a
constituent bearing such-and-such a semantic role may appear either
in position X or position Y depending on various conditions'' (p. 111).
Furthermore, in SS the ''phrase structure rules'' are divided
into ''principles of constituency and principles of linear order'' thus
giving the model the flexibility to account for ''some autonomous
syntactic principles that determine order'' as well as ''other facts about
order that depend on semantics'' (pp. 143-144).


Simpler Syntax is a very rich book, both in its basic content -- over 500
pages worth -- and in its generous provision of food for thought. It
should prove thought-provoking not just for scholars working within
generative linguistics, for whom it will provide many novel and
insightful solutions to some very old questions within that paradigm,
but also for linguists from outside the generative tradition, who will find
in it one of the very few historically and applicationally contextualised
accounts of the preoccupations of generative linguistics. It is this
second readership, to which I personally belong, that I would like to
address here, with some thoughts on the claims made by the Simpler
Syntax (SS) model and its place in the wider linguistic(s) universe.

C & J put an understanding of historical developments in generative
grammar right at the core of the SS ''enterprise''. In contrast to the
partiality and polemics of Newmeyer's Linguistic Theory in America
(1980), which treated the rise of what C & J call ''Mainstream
Generative Grammar'' (MGG), and particularly the first main break in
that tradition with the ''Generative Semantics Wars'' of the late 1960s
and early 1970s, in terms of a confrontation between ''truth''
and ''error'', in an account replete with a seemingly unconscious
reliance on religious and military metaphor, SS joins a number of
historiographically more grounded and ideologically more balanced
studies that have come out since then, particularly on that key moment
of rupture represented by Generative Semantics (Harris 1993, Huck
and Goldsmith 1996).

C & J also hark back to that seminal moment, putting SS forward as
a ''contemporary version of Interpretive Semantics'', and pointing out
that not only has MGG taken over many of the key ideas of
Generative Semantics, the proliferation of syntactic complexity most
commonly associated with that school is now a prominent feature of
MGG. For example, in their treatment of the ''early history of
mainstream syntax'' (Chapter 2), C & J make the strong claim
that ''the application of Uniformity in the development of MGG has
produced the consequence that the Minimalist Program is
indistinguishable in its essential architecture from Generative
Semantics, long since discredited'' (p. 45).

But If C & J were simply judging such an approach as out-of-date, with
the Minimalist Program dismissed as merely a warmed-over version of
Generative Semantics, their critique would not have the force it does.
Their main critique of the ''simplicity'' requirements for Universal
Grammar (UG) within both Generative Semantics and the Minimalist
Program -- in terms of minimizing the distinct components of grammar
and the distinct principles of grammar, respectively -- is that such a
requirement only leads to complexity elsewhere in the grammar. C & J
identify as the ''primary goal of explanation'' in SS -- a goal which is
shared by but perhaps not as pivotal in actual theorising in the other
two approaches -- the question of ''how the child acquires a grammar
with a minimum of UG'' (p. 43). As they remark earlier in their
argument, this goal of ''accounting for language acquisition gives
empirical teeth to the desire to minimize the cross-linguistically
variable principles of grammar'' (p. 11), and almost all of the
theoretical innovations of SS in comparison to MGG can be traced
back to the desire to minimize the ''internal resources that the child
brings to bear in the construction of a grammar'' (p. 11). This empirical
focus, though itself open to criticism (see below), gives the arguments
for the SS model a seriousness and a ''reality'' that more theoretically-
focused accounts often lack.

How the SS model itself measures up against the empirical facts,
which are of course as ''facts'' - as opposed to raw data - constructs of
the particular theoretical model adopted, is a harder question to
answer. In this regard it may not be irrelevant to cite the two epigraphs
C & J provide for their book. The first is the familiar quotation from
T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets about the goal of exploration being ''…to
arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time'', a
standard experience for workers in the human sciences like linguistics
that set out to characterize explicitly the faculties people use
automatically and unthinkingly in everyday life. However, the second,
simply sourced to ''Morris Halle'', and presumably representing a
favourite saying of his recalled from the authors' student days at MIT,
makes the rather larger claim: ''I'm not here to tell you the news, I'm
here to tell you the truth''.

I must confess to being rather at a loss as to how to ''read'' this second
epigraph -- or how C & J may have intended it to be read -- but must
also admit to some unease about it, because it seems to resonate with
at worst a degree of arrogance and at best a certain blindness
demonstrated in the book proper. On the most charitable
interpretation, the prioritizing of ''truth'' over ''news'' simply indexes C &
J's concern for the empirical groundedness of their theory, and their
consequent disinclination for the elaboration of theory on merely
theory-internal grounds. But to take a more critical point of view, C &
J's ''truth'' can only be awarded such a status if one accepts the key
theoretical and empirical tenets of the generative tradition, most of
which C & J certainly do, but which I would predict at least a significant
minority of their readers, including myself, definitely would not.

How for example is one to make sense of a claim like the following that
the ''first principles of generative grammar…have stood the test of time
and have received further confirmation through the flood of research
in cognitive science in the past forty years'' (p. 9)? Now this is certainly
not in the same league as the extreme but not exactly rare claim by
some generative linguists, for example Bickerton, in a recent argument
addressed to musicologists, that ''''[w]e have found out more about
human language in the last thirty years than we did in the preceding
three millennia'' (2000: 154), but it exhibits a similar flavour of self-
fulfilling prophecy. Bickerton goes on to claim that ''[w]e can now be
sure that all human languages share a number of nonobvious
characteristics, and that these characteristics derive directly from
human biology'' (ibid.), but these ''nonobvious characteristics'' turn out
to look suspiciously like a list of the main features of the Minimalist
Program. Similarly, since cognitive science as currently constituted
has been profoundly influenced by generative linguistics, it would be
surprising if it DIDN'T provide confirming evidence for that paradigm.

The sort of mind-set revealed by examples like this is one in which
there seems to be little awareness of the crucial distinction between
the phenomenon itself and the theoretical characterisation of that
phenomenon, even though we have no access to the former except
through the latter. As I said above, ''facts'' are created by ''theories'',
and so in characterising any phenomenon we need to be aware of the
crucial ontological gap between the two. To give just a few examples,
C & J refer at different points in their argument to the ''complexity of
achieved grammar, as discovered by investigation in linguistic theory''
(p. 11), another claim of the self-fulfilling prophecy kind; and just a bit
later claim that ''a theory of language also stands a better chance of
being learnable if its syntax can be shown to have less abstract
machinery'' (pp. 11-12). It is, I think, worrying for the SS ''enterprise''
that these kinds of claims bear directly on the main empirical ''guide''
for the form syntactic theorising takes, that of the relationship of UG to
language acquisition.

Such a conceptualization of language acquisition leaves itself open to
critique on two main grounds. Firstly, it seems to assume that the
process by which a child learner ''constructs'' a grammar for
him/herself is analogous to that by which an adult linguist describes
the grammar of a language: in other words, that in both cases we are
dealing with a similar kind of ''knowledge''. However, as Hockett
pointed out very early on (1968), there are in fact two distinct kinds of
knowing involved in the different cases. The first, for which Hockett
used the Chinese verb hui 'to know, to be able to', is the ''know how
to'' of the philosophers -- referring to the kinds of skills or habits that
are learned without conscious analysis. The second kind, for which
Hockett used the Chinese verb zhidao 'to know', is the ''know that''
kind of knowledge, factual, explicit, analytical. To base an argument
about ''know how to'' on the basis of ''know that'' is hard to justify, and
it is surely only the fact that the generative tradition by and large
ignores the ''community'' in favour of the ''mind/brain'' of the individual
(p. 10) -- in other words, creates a stark and quite unnecessary
dichotomy between the social and the cognitive - that has led
generative theorists to fudge this difference.

Secondly, on purely empirical grounds, treating the question of ''how
the child becomes grammatically competent so rapidly and effortlessly''
(p. 11) as some sort of mystery calling for a complex cognitive
explanation, again because the complex supportive social context in
which the child learns language is largely ignored, must at best be
rated as a rather dubious theoretical move. It may well be true that at
the time of the foundation of the generative paradigm the relevant
empirical studies had simply not been done, but this is no longer the
case. To mention only one tradition within linguistics, the body of work
that stems from Halliday's 1975 study Learning how to mean, including
Painter 1984 Into the Mother Tongue, both dealing with
protolanguage and the transition into the adult language, and
continuing with an extended study of the speech of older children
directed by Hasan (e.g. Hasan 1992), shows very clearly that an
enormous amount of language learning can be explained in terms of
the interaction of the child with its caregiver.

At one point in his lively and strongly expressed view of modern
linguistics, Sampson (1980) remarks on the fact that the students at
MIT used to dub the course they took on non-generative linguistic
theories ''the bad guys''. On reading C & J's views on contemporary
linguistics, one senses that for them, it is not so much a case of ''the
bad guys'' as ''the invisible guys''. For example, in their account of
the ''later history of mainstream syntax'' (Chapter 3), C & J refer to
Baker's attempt to defend what they characterise as
the ''syntactocentric'' Principles and Parameters model against the
sorts of monostratal approaches to which SS belongs. They comment
as follows (p. 74):
''Baker offers no argument against the monostratal approaches,
whose syntactic components are, as he admits, highly constrained. He
simply believes that there *has* to be more to syntax than this, and
lays out a program in which this view is central. He is asserting not
only architectural syntactocentrism, which is a legitimate theoretical
position, but also a more dogmatic, perhaps even imperialistic,

For an ''outsider'' reading SS, it is often difficult not to apply the same
sort of ''imperialistic'' label to C & J's project. Of course the ''insider''
view which C & J are so well qualified to give is one of the reasons
why they can speak with such authority on developments in the
generative tradition, and why their criticisms have the force they do.
But when it comes to accepting SS as ''truth'' rather than
simply ''news'', it is hard to take seriously claims that such-and-such a
feature of the SS theory, for example the Grammatical Function
Tier, ''captur[es] something deep and true about language'' (p. 539),
when the authors have so obviously not even looked at any
comparable models outside of the generative tradition. Perhaps they
might want to acknowledge that there are levels of ''mainstreamness'',
and that those in the ''mainstream linguistic tradition'' might benefit
from at least an increased sense of perspective through a greater
awareness of ''alternative linguistic traditions''.

But when it comes to their concluding call for ''some change in the way
people do syntax'' (p. 546), this current reviewer finds himself lined up
unequivocally on C & J's side. On what they earlier called
the ''conceptual'' aspect of theorising, their ''wish list'' includes what
seem to me, allowing for differences in the way different theories
frame such questions, unarguable propositions such as ''syntax
cannot be studied without simultaneously studying its interaction with
semantics (not to mention prosody)'' and ''an adequate theory of
syntax should connect in a natural way to an account of how humans
produce and understand sentences'' (p. 546). And on
the ''technological side'', they strike a note of sheer wisdom gained
from long experience in their call for ''more investigation that compares
frameworks dispassionately, for it is only by doing such comparisons
that we pit them against each other scientifically rather than merely
sociologically'' (p. 546).

It is true that from a broader perspective I personally do not accept
that ''most of the alternative frameworks conceive of themselves
primarily in opposition to mainstream generative grammar'' (p. 546),
and it seems to me that the ghost of that old chestnut ''notational
variant'' floats over statements such as ''the goal of such comparison
should be to distill out of each framework the essence of what it thinks
language is like, free of the peculiarities of its formalism'' (pp. 546-
547). But these are quibbles in relation to the overall attempt to open
up debate in SS. I hope that reactions to C & J's proposal will be
characterised by a tone similar to their own that is measured,
generous and above all honest about its own claims and


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Linguistic Descriptions. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

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Language Development. London: Pinter.

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Edward McDonald has taught Chinese language, linguistics and
semiotics at universities in Australia, Singapore and China, and
currently New Zealand. His research interests are in the areas of the
grammar and discourse of modern Chinese, theories and ideologies of
language, and the semiotics of language and music. His book,
Meaningful Arrangement: exploring the syntactic description of texts,
will be published by Equinox in November 2006.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0199271089
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 608
Prices: U.K. £ 60.00
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0199271097
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 608
Prices: U.K. £ 21.99