Saying A and meaning not-A

Daniel L. Everett dever at VERB.LINGUIST.PITT.EDU
Mon Apr 21 10:48:22 UTC 1997


To take a line from "Cool Hand Luke", what we have here is a failure to
communicate - big time. Let me attempt some answers.
On Mon, 21 Apr 1997, TIMO HAUKIOJA wrote:

> ** Esa Itkonen asked me to post the following for him. Please
>    direct all correspondence to him at eitkonen at **
>    - Timo Haukioja
> **************************************************************
> It has been a central claim on the generative side that
> language-acquisition can take place on the basis of NO evidence.

Really? this is news to me. Throughout the history of Generative Grammar
the role of the environment in triggering and shaping the grammar has
been acknowledged. What comes to the environment known, not learned, are
the constraints on the range of grammars allowed. This is the standard

> As
> McWhinney points out, Pullum has shown that in a representative case
> this is not true; the evidence is there. To this Everett replies
> that it does not matter.

Does anyone really think that Chomsky or any generative linguist is
really so silly as to paint him/herself into a corner by saying that
grammar *must* be aquired without evidence? My reply on the "discovery"
that children are exposed to evidence wrt their grammar is not only that
it is not a problem for Chomksy but that it is expected.

> What is going on here? If generativists claim that the evidence is
> not there, surely it is relevant to find out that it IS there. (This
> means that the original claim is FALSE.)

There never was any such claim.

> It is also relevant to
> learn that the semantics ALWAYS there, i.e. that a purely formal
> learning never occurs.

Nobody ever said this either. No generativist would ever claim that
semantics is irrelevant. Just that the syntax is underdetermined by the
semantics, i.e. that there is syntax. What are you reading for heaven's sake?

> I repeat: What is going on here? I tell you what. The generativists
> claimed that language-acquisition can take place without evidence
> and that it is about syntax. Both claims have turned out to be
> false. They know it, but they can't admit it.
> Esa Itkonen

Do you really think that there are people this stupid, this intransigent,
this dishonest in the field? Tsk. Tsk. Well it is either that or your
understanding of generative grammar is not quite, umh, accurate. The
latter is a hard conclusion to avoid.


More information about the Funknet mailing list