linguistics wars

Ellen F. Prince ellen at CENTRAL.CIS.UPENN.EDU
Tue Apr 22 03:44:13 UTC 1997

johanna rubba wrote:

>It seems that every so often another one of these
>generativists-vs.-functionalists debates gets going on Funknet (or
>Linguist); people talk at cross-purposes for awhile, argue about
>terminology, etc.; then the debate fades away. Does anyone ever go away
>with a changed mind?
>Generativist theories of lg. acquisition claim that the range of
>languages a child can learn is constrained by _innate_ __syntactic__
>structure. Therefore, children only need sufficient evidence to figure
>out which of the possible grammars they are encountering.
>I believe this is the claim that functionalists disagree with. I think
>(you all correct me if I'm wrong) most functionalists would agree that
>children are born with _something_ _innate_ that constrains the types of
>grammars they can learn, but that this something is not modularly
>__syntactic__. It is related to (or may consist solely of)
>semantic and possibly more general innate predispositions concerning cognition
>Hence the consistent appeals to semantics and more-general processing
>strategies by functionalists.

since we're playing out this periodic ritual, let me recite my standard
contribution: there are many (e.g. me and a number of others on this
list) who concern themselves with function and who find the point of view
presented in your second paragraph above to be the most reasonable one

in answer to your first paragraph, i suspect no one changes his/her beliefs
around here -- but it would be nice if we updated our meta-beliefs about
who believes what.

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