Emily's List

Greg Thomson gthomson at MAC.COM
Fri Apr 28 03:10:37 UTC 2000

At 23:51 -0700 25/04/00, George Lakoff wrote:
>A grammar of a language - including the lexicon - models the capacity of
>native speakers to express ideas using the language and to understand
>ideas expressed by others in discourse.

In 1977 you and H. Thompson (BLS 3) suggested that "Grammars are just
collections of strategies for understanding and producing sentences". I
like that better than the above "model[of] the capacity to express ideas...
and to understand ideas expressed by others..." For one thing, it puts
understanding first. In learning his or her language, the child must first
learn how the forms of the language determine/constrain understanding. We
should never forget that functions of linguistic form are fundamentally
comprehension functions. Comprehension first. I also like your 1977
formulation better because it seems more concrete. You went on to say in
1977 that "grammars do not have any separate mental reality; they are just
convenient fictions for representing certain processing strategies".
Actually, that may not be quite right either. What people have is
strategies for reacting to elements of linguistic form. And on top of that,
they learn to provide the elements that will cause analogous reactions in
others. Grammars are perhaps best thought of as descriptions of the
elements of form themselves. But a description of those processing triggers
is not a description of the processing strategies you referred to (in
1977). Only the latter are inside of people. Right?


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