syntax: functional vs generative

Diane Frances Lesley-Neuman lesleyne at
Tue Jun 2 00:00:52 UTC 2009


  There is more of a future in functionalism, although a knowledge of the generativist approach is also important.  Both types have computational linguistic applications, although major programs in computational linguistics, like the University of Texas, have switched over to LFG, at least for their syntax II.  My recommendation would be to be mainly functionalist, but teach generativism as an "additional theory" and ensure skill in basic tree-drawing and issues such as binding, raising, control an and WH-movement.   Functionalist programs are growing.  Mark Baker's Polysynthesis Parameter and Incorporation are good reads even for functionalists interested in minority languages.  
  I think that the constructionism offers a more unified approach -to bringing synchronic and diachronic analysis within one framework, and even from the perspective of language acquisition (see Michael Tomasello).  People switch from formal to functional as they evolve, rather than vice-versa.  Gert Booij, the morphologist at Leiden, is making the switch with his "constructional morphology".  Formal linguists interested in diachrony read Tom Givon.  There appear to be good reasons for it.

Formal Programs: MIT, Maryland, Arizona, University of Washington, UCLA, Penn, Georgetown, UMass-Amherst, Cornell, Rutgers, CUNY, UC-San Diego, Ohio State, University of Chicago, UC Santa Cruz

Functionalist Programs: Stanford (but they are eclectic), Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Oregon, Colorado, Rice, SUNY-Buffalo, University of New Mexico, Illinois-Carbondale

the University of Hawaii teaches both.

Of course, there are more departments than these. And departments also collaborate: right now, Buffalo (functionalist) and the University of Rochester (mainly formal) are working together in psycholinguistic experimentation in field linguistics.

You will find people with formal training in functionalist departments, and a few with functionalist training in formal departments, although usually outside of syntax.

University of Texas teaches Chomskyian in syntax I,and LFG in Syntax II.  Urbana Champaign teaches HPSG mainly, and these departments simply see themselves as scientific, although they are formal in spirit and in origin.  

However, for people to go to grad school and have reasonable chances, they should be grounded in both frameworks.

Hope this helps.


Diane Lesley-Neuman
Linguistics Program
Wells A-614
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824 Quoting "s.t. bischoff" < at>:

> 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.
>    Thanks,
>    Shannon

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