Rules vs. Lists

David Tuggy david_tuggy at
Thu Jul 3 00:11:21 UTC 2008

I'm afraid I'm not following you, Rob.

Why is there still argument? Well, no reason *my* papers should have 
settled it, particularly, but from my viewpoint practically all the 
arguments I've seen have come because people still hanker after a simple 
choice of either rules or lists, but don't want to accept both.

Why keep the lists? Because people (language users) do. And keep rules 
for the same reason.

I don't know what you mean by "the power lists can give you … to 
represent rules".

I don't think that "abstracting rules will always be an economy." I 
don't think we do it to be economical, but because we like to see what 
things that we know have in common, and (secondarily in some logical 
sense) we like to make other things like them.

I don't believe we (or at least I) extract all the rules our data might 
support. I've had, and I expect all of us have had, repeatedly, the 
experience of having someone point out a generality and immediately 
sensing either (a) Of course, I already half knew that, and (b) Whoa! 
Really?? I would *never* have seen that! (But sure enough, it’s there in 
the data.) The (a) response fits for me with the idea that I do in fact 
have some rules in my head and can recognize at least some of them, even 
when they are less than fully conscious. The (b) experience fits with 
the idea  that not all possible generalizations are of that type: 
already there and only needing to be wakened into consciousness.

If it should turn out that there are, entrenched in the minds of users 
of a language, more rules than pieces of data by some metric applied at 
some level, it wouldn't shake me up very badly. (By my lights the "data" 
themselves are schemas: *everything* that constitutes a language is a 
pattern, i.e. is schematic, is a generalization over specifics, is a rule.)

If you're trying to argue that the rules are generated anew (all of 
them) whenever needed, I don't see any reason to think that is true, and 
several reasons for not thinking it. I don't see why "the complexity, 
power, or number of rules which can be generalized" is the only 
important point: to me the complexity, power or number of rules that 
actually are generalized, and entrenched as conventional in users' 
minds, is at least as important. It is only those rules, not the 
potential ones, that constitute the languages they speak.

But as I say, I'm not sure I'm understanding you.

--David Tuggy

Rob Freeman wrote:
> Hi David,
> I agree you can see the now extensive "usage-based" literature as a
> historical use of "lists" to specify grammar. That is where this
> thread came from after all.
> But there is surely something missing. As you say, your own papers go
> back 20 or more years now. Why is there still argument?
> And the "rules" folks are right. A description of language which
> ignores generalizations is clearly incomplete. We don't say only what
> has been said before.
> And yet if you can abstract all the important information from lists
> of examples using rules, why keep the lists?
> So the argument goes round and round.
> What I think is missing is an understanding of the power lists can
> give you... to represent rules. That's why I asked how many rules you
> could abstract from a given list.
> While we believe abstracting rules will always be an economy, there
> will be people who argue lists are unnecessary. And quite rightly, if
> it were possible to abstract everything about a list of examples using
> a smaller set of rules, there would be no need to keep the examples.
> The point I'm trying to make here is that when placed in contrast with
> rules, what is important about lists might not be that you do not want
> to generalize them (as rules), but that a list may be a more compact
> representation for all the generalizations which can be made over it,
> than the generalizations (rules) are themselves.
> You express it perfectly:
> "...if you have examples A, B, C and D and extract a schema or rule
> capturing what is common to each pair, you have 6 potential rules,
> (AB, AC, AD, BC, BD, and CD), so sure, in theory you could have more
> rules than subcases."
> It is this power which I am wondering has never been used to specify grammar.
> You say you wouldn't "expect" to find this true in practice: "I
> wouldn't expect to find more rules than examples". But has anyone
> looked into it? It is possible in theory. Has anyone demonstrated it
> is not the case for real language data?
> Consider for a minute it might be true. What would that mean for the
> way we need to model language?
> I'll leave aside for a moment the other point about the importance of
> the concept of entrenchment from Cognitive Grammar. I think the raw
> point about the complexity, power, or number, of rules which can be
> generalized from a list of examples is the more important for now.
> I'd like to see arguments against this.
> -Rob

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