the debate

Philip A. Bralich, Ph.D. bralich at HAWAII.EDU
Mon Apr 28 19:12:30 UTC 1997

At 11:31 PM 4/27/97 -1000, Dick Hudson wrote:

>Personally I think `formal' vs `functional' is like `right' vs `left' in
>politics - a very crude way of locating oneself and others in a really
>complex intellectual space. Maybe ok emotionally but not to be taken too
>seriously as a basis for scientific thinking.

It is this rather profound but ordinary insight that I think prevents people
from commenting.  We all recognize the intelligence of both sides but are
unable to decisively take a stance because of the complexity.  Take for example,
the autonomy problem with a metahor from biology (one that has been mentioned
before I believe) where we can certainly see that a skeleton has very distinct
properties from muscles and veins and so on, but we simply cannot say that a
skeleton is autonomous to the extent that it will get up and walk off on its
own. If biologists were to take sides on the issue of the autonomy vs non-
autonomy of the human skeleton, I am sure there would be massively complex
arguments on both sides.  However, they have recognized that this is somewhat
a non issue from the point of view of effective orthopedics and other
of this science.

We can also say that syntax is both autonomous and not autonomous.  We can
certainly describe and predict a lot about langauges basedon syntax alone, but
syntax alone will not get up and walk on its own. I know that when one takes a
position on both sides of an issue like this it tends to weaken both sides, but
these are often issues where both sides very dearly need to be weakened.  We
should no more expect linguists to argue the autonomy of syntax than we should
expect biologists to argue the autonomy of the skeleton.

We should be able to take the analogy from biology, say things are formal
and functional, autonomous and non-autonomous and maybe we can get more
analyses and theories once we have these debates properly set aside.

Phil Bralich

Philip A. Bralich, Ph.D.
President and CEO
Ergo Linguistic Technologies
2800 Woodlawn Drive, Suite 175
Honolulu, HI 96822

Tel: (808)539-3920
Fax: (808)5393924

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