The Reality of Sentences

Steve Long Salinas17 at AOL.COM
Sun Apr 13 06:27:38 UTC 2003

In a message dated 4/12/03 11:01:31 PM, rjfreeman at writes:
<< Is there anyone else who didn't agree with my characterization of TG's
"pragmatic middle" argument as a confusion between Chomskian competence and
performance? >>

Let me ask how in the world one can conclude anything about "competence"
without observing "performance"?  We can only come to conclusions about the
effects of brain lesions on language "competence" by way of their effects on
language performance.  And no conclusions can be justified if they are not
manifest in performance.

And -- think about it -- when exactly is performance possible without
competence?  Can a subject without any language competence exhibit any
language performance?

How can these two concepts be seen as operational or theoretical opposites?
This seems to be the equivalent of making two legs the opposite of walking.
Or, for that matter, trying to understand the biological origins and
structure of human legs without understanding walking.

The contrast that was drawn was actually between "generative" and "emergent".
 From my individual point of view, it is the difference between stasis and
change.  On one hand you have the stability needed for language to work.
This is totally justified by the function of communication.  There must be a
predictability in the use of language or no communication will happen and the
use of language is pointless.  A listener must expect a speaker to follow
some kind of rules or the speech will be gibberish.

On the other hand, there is the need to postulate "a growth generator" --
something that makes emergence (in the classical sense) possible.  In
biology, just such a mechanism was needed to explain the origin of species.
The same kind of mechanism is needed to explain the origin of language and

To equate "emergent" with "performance" clearly comes up against the example
that TG gave.  A good deal of ordinary language performance is very
law-abiding.  BUT how it got to be that way can only be explained
naturalistically by a good deal of non-law abiding performance.  Or we'd all
be talking chimp talk today.

>From my point of view, it's plain that the "pragmatic middle" is not a
compromise, but a recognition that generative analysis captures a certain
facet of the phenomenon, but does not capture it all or explain its
existence.  And, from my point of view, this is a fundamental problem with
any pure structural analysis.

You may have a deep structural knowledge of a screwdriver or a human liver,
but still not be able to tell me what they "do". For all we know,
screwdrivers and livers could be structured quite differently and still work
quite well -- because structure is not the final determinant of whether
something works or not.  Where legs are not available, wheels might do a fine
job.  The same situation occurs with language.  Its structure does not answer
much more difficult questions - how did language arise and how does it work?

In fact, the contrast between the "generative" and "emergent" seem to be
basically functional, resulting in different structural needs.  This is
pretty much the nature of the "compromise" mentioned in the post discussed
here.  It is not a compromise in theory.  It is a compromise made by systems
that must continue to work while they continue to adapt.

In a message dated 4/6/03 5:08:43 PM, tgivon at OREGON.UOREGON.EDU writes:
<< We are dealing with biologically-based, adaptively- shaped complex
systems. Most often, such systems display various kinds of adaptive
compromises between conflicting--but equally valid--functional imperatives
(cf. Bates-MacWhinney's "competition model"). This is true all over biology,
cognition & language. For all populations, genetic variability (adaptive
flexibility) conflicts with genetic coherence (adaptive inheritance). In
phonology, articulatory speed (sound assimilation) conflicts with auditory
distinctness (sound dissimilation). In learning, innateness (relying on the
evolutionary experience of ancestors) conflicts with emergence (sensitivity
to changing context). Etc. etc.>>

Steve Long

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