functionalism vs generativism vs ...

Scott Delancey delancey at OREGON.UOREGON.EDU
Mon Jan 4 19:19:49 UTC 1999

On Mon, 4 Jan 1999, Dick Hudson wrote:

> Thanks to Scott Delancey for the helpful explanation of functionalism. I'm
> very happy to hear such an inclusive definition, but I wonder what it
> excludes. What would an explanation have to be like to count as
> non-functional? After all, even an explanation like subjacency would count
> as functional if we assumed that it was a cognitive constraint (as
> Chomskians would assume, I think).

Indeed they would, and do, and in fact one sometimes hears a certain
amount of annoyance expressed by generativists as what they regard
as misappropriation of the term "cognitive" by Cognitive Grammarians.

And yes, obviously, whatever's going on in the brain is "cognitive" in
some sense.  The crucial difference here is that explanatory
constructs of generative theory, like subjacency, are assumed to be
specifically linguistic, while cognitive explanations within functional
grammar* appeal to constructs which are presumed to be aspects of
general cognition, not part of a distinct, modular language faculty.
The essential difference is whether explanation is being sought outside
of linguistic structure itself.  Thus an explanation of the
cross-linguistic tendency for topics to come in sentence-initial
position which is stated in terms of phrase structure is not
functionalist, while one which is stated in terms of the psychology
of perception is.

        *I would definitely include Cognitive Grammar here, and I'm
        not alone in that; see for example Langacker's discussion of
        the relation between his proposals and other frameworks in
        vol. I of Foundations of Cognitive Grammar (p. 4)

Scott DeLancey
Department of Linguistics
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403, USA

delancey at

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