easily imagined errors

Jon Aske jaske at ABACUS.BATES.EDU
Sun Apr 20 15:05:48 UTC 1997


What exactly do you mean by "eliminating syntax"?   I ask this because I get the feeling that this is how formalists dismiss the functionalist  perspective, ie by saying: those guys want to "eliminate syntax".  I mean, they could say: those guys want to enrich syntax, but they don't.

So this question is important.  Do you mean eliminating intermediate stages between meaning at one end and utterances at the other (straw-man functionalism)?  Or do you mean eliminating form-form relationships among constructions?

I think most functionalists would agree that form-meaning associations are made at the level of constructions, which are supposedly cognitive units.  You may then hypothesize that some constructions are cognitively related to other constructions, or you may not, and you may argue about the type of relationship that exists between different constructions, eg content questions and statements.  In other words, the grammatical units in which form and meaning are conventionalized are constructions (just like the lexical units in which that happens are lexemes), and constructions, just like all other signs, have a meaningful pole and a formal pole.  The functionalists' claim is that the two cannot be separated.

My question is: is that "eliminating syntax"?


>>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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