theory-neutral grammars

Mark Donohue donohue at
Tue Feb 4 18:14:49 UTC 1997

On Tue, 4 Feb 1997, Rob Pensalfini wrote:

> I like Mark's guidelines for writing ACCESSIBLE grammars, but I've never
> seen a grammar where theory 'doesn't intrude on description'.
Agreed - but the point is not to exclude it, but to make it's presence as
indetectable (ha ha) as possible.
How ot judge this? Can a non-theoretician read it and be satidfied? Can a
pair of theoreticians read it (as a descriptive grammar) and be happy,
even if they're from different camps? If yes, then it's a pretty
"theory-neutral" grammar.

> The only way to prevent theory from intruding on description, in my
> opinion, is to present hours of randomly recorded (unelicted, of course)
> sound, untranscribed.
But then that's not "description" - that's jsut a presentation of hours
of randomly recorded sound.
Given the fact that observing an event DOES affect our view of it, etc
etc (old maxims), the point is, I think, to try and minimalise that.

> I do not see how there can be a truly theory-neutral description.
And indeed there can't. But see above.

> Of course, all this should be taken with handfuls of salt, since my own
> work seeks to separate (theory-laden) description of Jingulu facts from
> hard-core formal analysis thereof. I originally sought to write separate
> sections: description and theoretical analysis, but I soon realised that
> the theoretical analysis of the descriptive 'facts' was entirely dependent
> on how the 'facts' were presented. This led me to my current position on
> the impossibility of theory-neutral description.
See Dixon's 1972 grammar of Dyirbal: there's a more purely descriptive
section, then a TG section, and so on.
Now, ther'es a good argument there for "theory-neutral" description right
there: TG was the forefront of modern lingusitics back then: who reads
it now? Theory, necessary as it is to description, dies a pretty fast
death. That's another reason to keep it to a minimum, or as I ws recently
advised (rightly) by a (I hope) soon-to-be-publisher, to separate articles.

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