The Reality of Sentences3

Rob Freeman rjfreeman at EMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 16 03:01:27 UTC 2003


I think you are taking your adherence to functional orthodoxy a little far
here. Function may be a key determinant of language, but it is not the only
thing in the world.

I almost feel like joining Tom Givon and running from the 100%'ers.

In a final attempt to explain my position let me push the movie analogy and
say that while I don't believe movies should be best described as some kind
of "pragmatic middle" between puppet and picture, I also don't think they can
be completely explained by our functional need to be entertained.

However much an alien might never fully understand movies without
understanding the human need to be entertained.

No more will language be completely explained by the human need to eat.

To tie up, in this analogy your assertion that "language follows rules",
"there's no question that language is rule governed" would be equivalent to
saying "movies have movement, there is no question they contain movement". My
original assertion that "there is no grammar" might be something like "the
pictures in movies don't move". I leave it to you to ascertain which is true,
and I'll leave it to Tom to tell us what a mechanism for a movie which
consisted of a "pragmatic middle" between moving puppets and static pictures
might be.

I'll stick with my assertion that a model of movies needs to be fundamentally
based on photography, and that objects in the pictures don't move, but that
the illusion of movement is continually being created by successions of new
combinations of photographs. Similarly grammar rules don't exist, but the
illusion of grammar rules is continually being created by successions of new
combinations of examples of language use.

Maybe I'll be branded as too narrowly, 100% a "cameraman", but I don't see
us "making movies" any other way.



On Tuesday 15 April 2003 6:02 pm, Salinas17 at wrote:
> In a message dated 4/14/03 8:09:49 PM, rjfreeman at EMAIL.COM writes:
> << But your own point in your last message was that what a system can do is
> largely independent of what a system is. "Where legs are not available,
> wheels might do a fine job.">>
> That was definitely not the point.  The point was that there may be more
> than one system -- more precisely structure -- that achieves the same
> function. But neither my legs or wheels will get me to the moon.  In this
> world, there is a high degree of dependency between structure and function.
>  That is why both birds and airplanes have wings.  Some functions are
> served by a very limited choice of structural solutions.
> In fact, ideally, what a structure "is" should be precisely equivalent to
> what it "does." In the case of a Swiss Army knife, the structure is
> specifically dictated by all the things that Swiss Army knives are supposed
> to do.  In the case of language, structure should ideally be what structure
> does.  When there is a discrepency between what WE THINK language does and
> WHAT WE THINK the structure of language is, it suggests something is
> missing. Because language is inherently structured, the first place to look
> for the problem is in our understanding of the function of language -- what
> does language do?
> << You presented that as an example of the distinction between function and
> form, but I think it illustrates the distinction between competency and
> system equally well. >>
> Language follows rules.  If it didn't, it would be gibberish and have no
> function.  You cannot understand legs without understanding walking.  And
> you cannot understand walking without understanding legs.
> When an archaeologist finds a tool whose purpose is unknown, his only
> chance at identifying its function is hypothesizing some use from its
> structure. And then to try it out and see if that hypothesis works.
> There's no question that language is rule governed.  There is no question
> that the human ability to generate those rules is in some ways universal.
> So a big question becomes, if this is the structure, what forces produced
> that structure?  From a naturalistic point of view, we can't assume that it
> dropped out of heaven.  So we need to be able to explain that structure in
> terms of the functions it served or serves.  (And I don't mean something
> like "human language allowed us to cooperate" - ants cooperate.  The
> intricacy of language structure presents the most serious problem to a
> functional analysis.  Why is  grammar effective in the operation of human
> language? What contingencies shaped the parts?)
> I think that some linguists have been a bit guilty of assuming that we
> understand language's functions well enough to justify looking at structure
> alone.  But that does not make their observations about structure wrong.
> It simply affects the theoretical conclusions that are drawn from those
> observations.
> <<I'm sure the actual forms of language are the natural result, and a
> reflection, of the human tendency to find order in the world.>>
> If finding order in the world was all it was about, then there would be no
> need for speech.  We could all do it on our own.  I'm pretty sure that
> human language had a lot more to do with finding dinner than with finding
> order. And that it was the world that imposed its "order" on language, not
> the other way around.
> <<Just as Functionalism says language is an expression of our tendency to
> find meaning in contrast.>>
> A more proper functional analysis says the meaning of a word is the effect
> it has.  Contrast without consequence has no meaning.
> Steve Long

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