conversation and syntax

Paul Hopper hopper at
Mon Jun 9 11:02:22 UTC 2008

Dear Colleagues,

What is to be the nature of Funknet? 

Most of us would think of it as an arena in which we can discuss topics within the/a functionalist paradigm by swapping ideas in an ongoing conversation. However, the polemical "article of faith" abstract Fritz Newmeyer has sent round contains no empirical arguments, so it cannot be responded to without reading the entire article. The controversial points he makes in the article will basically go unanswered in this forum simply because the genre of email doesn't permit a paradigm-level response. Only another article can respond to an article. So Fritz gets to trash someone else's work in public on the basis of a promissory note.

It would be sad if Funknet became a clearing house for the exchange of titles and abstracts rather than the actual discussion of ideas.

- Paul

> Dear Funknetters,
> I think that some of you might be interested in the following paper of
> mine:
> 'What Conversational English Tells Us About the Nature of Grammar'
> ABSTRACT It has become an article of faith among many functional and
> cognitive linguists that the complex abstract structures posited by
> generative grammarians are an artifact of ‘disembodied sentences that
> analysts have made up ad hoc, 
 rather than utterances produced by real
> people in real discourse situations’ (Michael Tomasello). Their view is
> that if one focuses on ‘naturally occurring discourse’, then grammar will
> reveal itself to be primarily a matter of memorized formulas and simple
> constructions. This paper challenges that view. Basing its claims on a
> 170MB corpus of conversational English, it argues that the nature of real
> discourse reinforces the need for a sophisticated engine for representing
> and accessing grammatical knowledge. At a more specific level, it
> challenges Sandra Thompson’s claim that evidence from conversation leads
> to the conclusion that sentential complements (e.g., 'you’re ready to go'
> in 'I guess you’re ready to go') are not grammatically subordinate.
> The paper can be accessed at the following url:
> Best wishes,
> Fritz
> Frederick J. Newmeyer Professor Emeritus, University of Washington Adjunct
> Professor, University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University [for
> my postal address, please contact me by e-mail]

Prof. Dr. Paul J. Hopper
Senior Fellow
Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies
Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
Paul Mellon Distinguished Professor of Humanities
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA5213

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