syntax: functional vs generative

s.t. bischoff at
Mon Jun 1 17:36:55 UTC 2009

Hi all,

  This is similar to my earlier question regarding the development of a
   syntax course. The conversation has expanded into one that will help
   us define our department in terms of our curriculum.   We are trying
   to decide if our introduction to syntax should be "functional" or
   "generative" (Chomskyan). For some the argument for the generative
   approach has been that it is the "mainstream" framework. However, it
   seems to others that it is "mainstream" only in the sense that a
   number of graduate programs pursue it. Some argue that if
   undergraduates are hoping to gain meaningful employment outside
   academia or pursue graduate programs in allied fields, "generative"
   doesn't seem to be mainstream in the slightest (personally I would
   like to know if this true...I suspect it may be). That is, for
   example, if they wanted to work for SIL, where it has been reported
   over a 1,000 languages are currently being worked on,  or wanted to
   work with a community documenting a language then functionalism would
   serve them better. Also, if they wanted to work for e.g. Google, SAP,
   Xerox, a functional approach would translate much better to
   computational linguistics e.g. finite state grammars. In addition, some
   here have argued that functionalism is more applicable to forensic
   linguistics than generative. Also, it seems that if students do go on
   to graduate school the flavor of generativsit grammar will vary, so it
   isn't necessary to train them in it...perhaps that argument could be applied
   to a functional approach(?).

   Does anyone know how many graduate programs are actually generative vs
   functional? Which "major programs" are functional and which are
   generative? Or how much research is going on in the two areas?

   Any thoughts would be welcome.


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