Which linguistic theory do you subscribe to?

This is our main forum. Here, anything related to languages and linguistics can be discussed.

Moderator: Forum Administrators

User avatar
Danysh
Posts: 278
Joined: 2006-01-16, 5:29
Real Name: Danny
Gender: male
Location: Tel Aviv, Israel
Country: IL Israel (ישראל / إسرائيل)

Which linguistic theory do you subscribe to?

Postby Danysh » 2017-08-01, 11:55

Since there are so many different theories of grammar, from formal approaches like Chomskyan generative syntax and its many versions to cognitive or functionalist theories, I'm curious which ones you are familiar with and find the most convincing. I find myself in the constructionist camp, and I specifically like William Croft's Radical Construction Grammar though I haven't read enough about it yet to really understand its merits. It seems to me that what we now know about developmental psychology, cognitive science, and evolution points to the reality that a language is a group of form-function mappings that have been conventionalized in a group of speakers, with various levels of abstraction, from single morphemes to more complex argument structures. We also know that the brain is capable of statistical learning and that the way children learn language is gradual and in large part parallel to what they are exposed to. In my view, formal theories that try to come up with structures and rules that can explain Universal Grammar are missing the mark; they may have explanatory power but without any evidence (psychological, neurological, whatever) to substantiate it, a simpler explanation seems better.
Anyway, what do you all think? What theories do you like and why?

vijayjohn
Language Forum Moderator
Posts: 24952
Joined: 2013-01-10, 8:49
Real Name: Vijay John
Gender: male
Location: Yuanlin, Changhua County
Country: TW Taiwan (臺灣)
Contact:

Re: Which linguistic theory do you subscribe to?

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-08-01, 12:30

In reality, I don't subscribe to any and think they're all terrible, but of the ones that exist, I'm most inclined to stick with UG and such because:
Danysh wrote:It seems to me that what we now know about developmental psychology, cognitive science, and evolution points to the reality that a language is a group of form-function mappings that have been conventionalized in a group of speakers, with various levels of abstraction, from single morphemes to more complex argument structures.

That's not what I've seen the evidence corroborate at all; if anything, what I recall is that experimental evidence questioned this view of language.
We also know that the brain is capable of statistical learning and that the way children learn language is gradual and in large part parallel to what they are exposed to.

Sure, but I find that human brains are capable of much more than that whereas computers are not. That's why I think Radical Construction Grammar is even further away from the reality than UG is.

User avatar
md0
Posts: 7754
Joined: 2010-08-08, 19:56
Country: DE Germany (Deutschland)

Re: Which linguistic theory do you subscribe to?

Postby md0 » 2017-10-05, 17:25

Slightly necroposting here, but I was reading The Cognitive Neuroscience of Language Acquisition the past few days, and the way I understand it is that there is substantial empirical evidence to support some degree of innate linguistic ability, and of functional autonomy of that ability, that is, for both 'big' claims the "Chomskyist" camp makes (which is not the same as Generative Linguistics, there's Generative Linguistics without claims of genetic endowment).

To me, there's no questioning the generative aspect of Language at all by the way. The syntax of all human languages clearly exhibits hierarchical structure (eg see binding principles, negation scope) and application of rules. If we learned syntax by statistical means, and naive associations, language wouldn't have so rigid rules. And human brains are not that good at remembering arbitrary pairs of information to begin with.

The interesting question is, to the degree linguistic ability is innate, is that a product of general cognition or a specialised subsystem, like vision uncontroversially is considered to be?

Neuroscientific research so far does not allow us to dismiss modularity as a frivolous claim. If anything, UG is the simpler explanation here, considering what we already know. How do those dismissive of modularity account for Language-specific pathologies?

Another paper I read, called "The Radical Middle: Nativism without Universal Grammar" (10.1111/b.9781405132817.2005.00004.x), was not convincing.

That being said, I have a lot of points of disagreement with syntactic theories as they stand (see my forum sig regarding my frustration caused by the explosion of the InflP).
"If you like your clause structure, you can keep your clause structure"
Stable: Cypriot Greek (el-cy)Standard Modern Greek (el)English (en) Current: Standard German (de)
Legacy: France French (fr)Japanese (ja)Standard Turkish (tr)Elementary Finnish (fi)Netherlands Dutch (nl)

vijayjohn
Language Forum Moderator
Posts: 24952
Joined: 2013-01-10, 8:49
Real Name: Vijay John
Gender: male
Location: Yuanlin, Changhua County
Country: TW Taiwan (臺灣)
Contact:

Re: Which linguistic theory do you subscribe to?

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-10-05, 17:57

md0 wrote:To me, there's no questioning the generative aspect of Language at all by the way. The syntax of all human languages clearly exhibits hierarchical structure (eg see binding principles, negation scope) and application of rules. If we learned syntax by statistical means, and naive associations, language wouldn't have so rigid rules. And human brains are not that good at remembering arbitrary pairs of information to begin with.

I don't see why the choice must be either between hard-and-fast rules or statistics and naive associations, though, and it seems to me that there are plenty of rules in all kinds of languages that are not that rigid. Why is it not possible that we learn language(s) via an abstract form of pattern association, for example? IIRC this is also supported by studies of child language acquisition (I may be remembering this entirely wrong. I can try seeing what I can get out of my notes regarding this sort of thing if you're interested).

Also, if we really process syntax in our brains in the form of rigid rules, why are we able to flout those rules so easily? Why is it the case that it's possible for one native speaker of a language to say, "I think this sentence is grammatical" even if it violates a rule they would otherwise agree with, or even if a whole room of other native speakers of the same language whose speech doesn't differ noticeably from this one speaker's disagrees? How do we use rigid rules to explain, for example, what appears to be highly flexible word order in some languages?

User avatar
md0
Posts: 7754
Joined: 2010-08-08, 19:56
Country: DE Germany (Deutschland)

Re: Which linguistic theory do you subscribe to?

Postby md0 » 2017-10-05, 18:36

I don't see why the choice must be either between hard-and-fast rules or statistics and naive associations, though, and it seems to me that there are plenty of rules in all kinds of languages that are not that rigid.

and
Also, if we really process syntax in our brains in the form of rigid rules, why are we able to flout those rules so easily?

There's of course language change happening in real time, but we should also be careful not to make at least a three-way distinction between performance errors, prescriptive "rules", and actual variation/violations which is what I think you mean.

Performance vs competency are probably different things, but I know some deny this.

Prescriptive rules probably need to introduction.

Now, actual variation for me would be like occurrences of pronoun dropping in English. It seems to me like this quite fundamental feature of English is changing extremely slowly, perhaps because of the many ESL speakers with pro-drop first languages.

Related to that, maybe, is the psycholinguistics observation that some (but not all) ungrammatical sentences get more accepted over the course of the same experiment if they are repeated, so familiarity could be a factor. Eg more prominence of ESL speakers in English-speaking societies increases grammatical acceptance of pronoun dropping.

So I wouldn't be surprised if "parameters" are ranked, and some can be violated more easily than others. But some things simply cannot be violated, even in experiments with purposefully created grammatically outlandish conlangs.

Why is it not possible that we learn language(s) via an abstract form of pattern association, for example?

There's definitely a lot that is learnt about languages, the entire vocabulary, styles and registers, pragmatics.
How much of syntax is learnt that way is the controversial aspect.

How do we use rigid rules to explain, for example, what appears to be highly flexible word order in some languages?

We have a clue that allows us to investigate this though!
OSV is not documented at all. It looks like that order is impossible. Even Greek, notorious for its word-order anarchy among the Indoeuropean branch, doesn't allow it.
Between them, SOV and SVO are the unmarked orders for more than 90% of the documented languages.
Even with just those two pieces of information, you are motivated to think that word order must be ruled government; it is flexible but not that flexible.
Skipping the reasoning behind it, the current preferred answer is that anything other than SOV and SVO are a result of Move. And Move is independently motivated by other grammatical phenomena, so it's not like it's an assumption made purely out of convenience.

But as far as I am aware, we do not have neuroscientific evidence for Move, it's just a hypothesis that makes a lot of good predictions. So it might be completely wrong, and that's always my fear (that we can have a theory that predicts everything it needs to, nothing more, nothing less, and still be the wrong explanation).
"If you like your clause structure, you can keep your clause structure"
Stable: Cypriot Greek (el-cy)Standard Modern Greek (el)English (en) Current: Standard German (de)
Legacy: France French (fr)Japanese (ja)Standard Turkish (tr)Elementary Finnish (fi)Netherlands Dutch (nl)

vijayjohn
Language Forum Moderator
Posts: 24952
Joined: 2013-01-10, 8:49
Real Name: Vijay John
Gender: male
Location: Yuanlin, Changhua County
Country: TW Taiwan (臺灣)
Contact:

Re: Which linguistic theory do you subscribe to?

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-10-05, 19:20

md0 wrote:Now, actual variation for me would be like occurrences of pronoun dropping in English. It seems to me like this quite fundamental feature of English is changing extremely slowly, perhaps because of the many ESL speakers with pro-drop first languages.

Doesn't necessarily look like foreign influence to me! (See what I'm doing here?) ;)
OSV is not documented at all.

Yes, it is - widely documented, in fact.
It looks like that order is impossible. Even Greek, notorious for its word-order anarchy among the Indoeuropean branch, doesn't allow it.

It's very common in Malayalam, and there are even a few languages where it is the default word order. It's pretty common in Indo-Aryan, too. Even English can have OSV (grammaticality judgments on this vary among native speakers, but still, it is definitely possible for some native speakers).
Between them, SOV and SVO are the unmarked orders for more than 90% of the documented languages.
Even with just those two pieces of information, you are motivated to think that word order must be ruled government; it is flexible but not that flexible.

Ruled by government?

I believe I've seen the predominance of SOV and SVO be explained as being possibly motivated by the (semantic?) salience of the subject, not necessarily by any kind of rules. I also know that word order is a notoriously unstable syntactic feature.

User avatar
md0
Posts: 7754
Joined: 2010-08-08, 19:56
Country: DE Germany (Deutschland)

Re: Which linguistic theory do you subscribe to?

Postby md0 » 2017-10-05, 20:05

Yes, it is - widely documented, in fact.

there are even a few languages where it is the default word order

That can potentially have repercussions for current syntactic theory if it can't be accounted for by Move, since it would mean that the direct objects aren't complements to the verb head.

What I read is that in the few languages where OSV is attested, it was analysed as derived order, not unmarked. My textbook references Baker, Mark C. 2001. The Atoms of Language: The Mind’s Hidden Rules of Grammar regarding this. The argument is that in ditransitives, those unmarked-OSV languages (no more than 5 of them seem to exist) show OD-V-S order, and S-O-V order in non-tensed clauses, which to me seem to suggest that there's some Movement happening to create surface OSV, which OI or lack of Tense block (and Move blocks can be predictably triggered). I could be wrong about my interpretation of Baker's argument though.

Ruled by government?

Nah something went seriously wrong with my writing there - I probably switched to another task midway and when I came back I forgot what I had already typed. It was supposed to be governed by rules, probably.

I believe I've seen the predominance of SOV and SVO be explained as being possibly motivated by the (semantic?) salience of the subject, not necessarily by any kind of rules. I also know that word order is a notoriously unstable syntactic feature.

I could see that, but the main claim here is not that S usually goes first, but that V and O must form a constituent, either OV or VO. And the motivation there is mostly semantics, theta-role assignment.
That's one of the areas of syntax that I am the least comfortable making claims about though, there's a lot I feel I might be misunderstanding.
"If you like your clause structure, you can keep your clause structure"
Stable: Cypriot Greek (el-cy)Standard Modern Greek (el)English (en) Current: Standard German (de)
Legacy: France French (fr)Japanese (ja)Standard Turkish (tr)Elementary Finnish (fi)Netherlands Dutch (nl)

vijayjohn
Language Forum Moderator
Posts: 24952
Joined: 2013-01-10, 8:49
Real Name: Vijay John
Gender: male
Location: Yuanlin, Changhua County
Country: TW Taiwan (臺灣)
Contact:

Re: Which linguistic theory do you subscribe to?

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-10-05, 20:29

md0 wrote:What I read is that in the few languages where OSV is attested, it was analysed as derived order, not unmarked.

My understanding was that according to Generative Grammar, word order is always derived and has nothing to do with whether it is marked or not in any given language because movement rules always apply only in S(urface)-structure, and in D(eep)-structure, it is always VSO.

User avatar
md0
Posts: 7754
Joined: 2010-08-08, 19:56
Country: DE Germany (Deutschland)

Re: Which linguistic theory do you subscribe to?

Postby md0 » 2017-10-06, 6:31

In the framework I am familiar with, there's no DS/SS distinction, but the default structure is something like
syntax_tree.png
You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.
"If you like your clause structure, you can keep your clause structure"
Stable: Cypriot Greek (el-cy)Standard Modern Greek (el)English (en) Current: Standard German (de)
Legacy: France French (fr)Japanese (ja)Standard Turkish (tr)Elementary Finnish (fi)Netherlands Dutch (nl)

vijayjohn
Language Forum Moderator
Posts: 24952
Joined: 2013-01-10, 8:49
Real Name: Vijay John
Gender: male
Location: Yuanlin, Changhua County
Country: TW Taiwan (臺灣)
Contact:

Re: Which linguistic theory do you subscribe to?

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-10-06, 6:50

This looks to me like proof that linguists never agree. :lol: I think this is probably the first time I've ever heard anyone say that the indirect object might originate in the specifier of a VP. :shock:

User avatar
md0
Posts: 7754
Joined: 2010-08-08, 19:56
Country: DE Germany (Deutschland)

Re: Which linguistic theory do you subscribe to?

Postby md0 » 2017-10-06, 6:56

Again, check my sig :lol:

Apparently the motivation for this overhaul came about when descriptions of non-IE languages became more widely available. It's supposed to better handle Ergative languages, and account for phonologically overt transitivisers (v) like those in Mandarin (which motivated getting S out of the VP). I'll try to find the example data we studied last year and post them.
"If you like your clause structure, you can keep your clause structure"
Stable: Cypriot Greek (el-cy)Standard Modern Greek (el)English (en) Current: Standard German (de)
Legacy: France French (fr)Japanese (ja)Standard Turkish (tr)Elementary Finnish (fi)Netherlands Dutch (nl)


Return to “General Language Forum”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest