The Reality of Sentences2

Steve Long Salinas17 at AOL.COM
Mon Apr 14 05:23:53 UTC 2003

In a message dated 4/13/03 8:22:39 PM, rjfreeman at writes:
<< Exactly, that is why I say Tom was confused. He was opposing these two
different things as if they conflicted. Generative grammar rules are rules
describing competence. Why then does he compare them with a system (emergent
generalization) specifying performance.  >>

I'll let Prof Givon respond as and if he chooses.  But I think if you take a
close look, you'll see you are having your cake and eating it too.  If one
admits the generative model cannot exclude performance, it is hard to see why
one would turn around and use performance in distinction to a generative

The comparison TG made is valid precisely because that the distinction
between competence and performance is artificial and non-operational.  And
there's nothing in the generative model that prevents it being a model for

Generative grammar rules MUST describe performance, no matter what the
theoretical positioning.  There is no such thing as "rules describing
competence" that exclude performance.  Because "competence" refers to nothing
else than the capabilities and constraints on performance.  It has no meaning
otherwise.  The only contact with reality generative grammar has is in its
relation to performance.  If it has nothing to say about performance, it has
nothing to say.

It is preposterous to say a model that states a human is "competent" to jump
20 feet has nothing to do with a model "specifying" that a human can
"perform" a 20 foot jump.  And so there is no reason to distinguish models on
that basis.

Since generative grammar must be about performance, the real question is what
kind of performance it does refer to.

A completely different problem is confusing "emergence" with "performance".
They are not congruent.  Once again, "emergence" classically is the situation
where a new combination is greater than the sum of its parts.  No matter how
much performance may involve new, emergent elements, it does not need to.  In
the inherently ruled phenomenon of language, there is obviously an ubiquitous
element that cannot be called emergent.  In fact, generative grammar can be
seen as a model describing the non-emergence element of language.

Once again, the glaring problem I think you've run into here is the big blind
spot caused by structural analysis.  The difference between the "generative"
and "emergent" elements of language appear to reflect two different functions
of language structure.  Unless one separates these functions, the validity of
one element always seems to lose out in theory to the other.  Both elements
are functionally valid and language structure may be seen as at best a
compromise between the two.

And, on second thought, it is interesting to contrast "competence" versus
"performance" in an operational, synchronic way.  We have the hypothetical
language "competence" of non-human primates with its apparent constraints on
language structure.  Then we have, a little later on the evolutionary tree,
human language performance that "out-performs" that earlier competence.  Does
this mean the generative model is wrong from an evolutionary perspective?  Of
course not.  What it tells us is that human linguistic competence --
generative grammar -- is not a static event, but an evolving one.  And that
suggests understanding how that evolution occurred is key to understanding
human language.

Steve Long

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