conversation and syntax

Dan Everett dlevere at
Mon Jun 9 11:59:00 UTC 2008

I agree with Paul. Yet, at the same time, I believe that Fritz's ideas  
aare worth debating here. Can it be shown that arguments from usage  
seriously undermine formal linguistics and favor functional  
linguistics? This seems particularly relevant for this list.

I would love to see here a brief synopsis of an article that replies  
to Fritz's criticisms and a link to that article. That strikes me as  
quite a good thing to have on a list like this.

Fritz's tone is always calm and his style circumspect. His arguments  
are careful and reasonable. This doesn't mean that they are right! But  
this kind of dialogue is very useful, at least it is to me, both in  
full articles and, when appropriate and doable, in less formal  
communication, e.g. this list.

All the best,

-- Dan Everett

Quoting Paul Hopper <hopper at>:

> 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
> and
> Paul Mellon Distinguished Professor of Humanities
> Carnegie Mellon University
> Pittsburgh, PA5213

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