easily imagined errors

Daniel L. Everett dever at VERB.LINGUIST.PITT.EDU
Sun Apr 20 11:02:09 UTC 1997


Since I enjoy Geertz's writing, I thank you for the quote.

Let me just comment on the interpretational richness of your comment on
my comment, though:

On Sat, 19 Apr 1997, Sherman Wilcox wrote:

> According to Dan, the complexities of structure-dependency *cannot* be
> merely an imagined reality -- this is *true* knowledge. And yet when
> Brian brings up cognitive units (a concept which I would guess he can
> support with a fair amount of empirical evidence, not just linguistic but
> also psychological, neurological, and computer modeling), Dan says this
> is merely hand-waving.

I never said anything about true knowledge. I certainly do not think I
have it (at least not in linguistics). Nor do I think Chomsky has it.
Brian and the "cognitive units" hypothesis might well be right. But the
point about hand-waving here (and in general when it is encountered in the
literature) is just this:  Aside from the fact that the linguistic
situation is much more complex than Brian's analysis allows, when you get
down to justifying the notion of cognitive unit, you will find that it
cashes out in terms of syntax. In fact, I would agree that there is a
cognitive unit here, in fact there are lots of them in sentences - they
are called phrases.  Syntactic units just are cognitive units (at least in
Chomsky's theory of syntax). So to say that something is not syntax, but
that it's "cognitive", is self-contradictory, unless the notion "cognitive
unit" can be given enough content to handle the kinds of facts that
exercise full-time syntacticians. These facts are almost always grossly
oversimplified by psychologists looking at language (and lots of linguists

But I do not discount a priori the possibility that there could be a
theory which successfully eliminates syntax. I just have not seen anything
like one yet.


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