Tom Givon tgivon at
Mon Oct 25 15:18:01 UTC 2010

I think Henrik is trying to jiggle our memory chains. So yes, some 
people have short memories.

One could of course say a few more things in retrospect. Functionalist, 
my earlier self included, have been prone to throw the baby out with the 
bathwater. That is, to ignore or deny the structural (= formal) 
properties of grammar just because Chomsky chose to emphasize them 
exclusively. The epitome of this was the late Erica Gracia's exhortation 
to "function without structure", a sentiment that continue to haunt many 
functionalists' work. The most cursory perusal of the history of 
biology, beginning with Aristotle's placing the on firm functionalist (= 
adaptive) foundations 2,300 years ago, ought to convince us that this is 
utter logical nonsense.

Another one concerns innateness, which for any evolutionist means, quite 
simply, the acknowledgement that evolution has taken place, and that the 
cumulative adaptive experience of ancestral generations has found its 
way into the genome. Just because Chomsky's extreme abuse of this notion 
in his non-empirical account of language acquisition does not mean that 
the genetic basis of human language is in any way tainted. No reasonable 
primatologist or child-language scholar could get away with such a position.

Likewise, Chomsky's abuse of the notion 'theory' (=formalism) and 
'universals' is a lame excuse for functionalist to reject the profound 
value of theory (=universals & their explanation). In science, data 
without theory is missing the whole point.

Lastly, I think Chomsky-bashing is a rather unprofitable exercise for 
functionalist, especially that quite often we are guilty of the very 
same intellectual insularity as the generativists. For my money, I have 
learned an incredible amount from Noam. True, a lot of it was via a 
negative venue, but what the hell, you pick 'em where you find 'em. So 
perhaps the old Biblical caution ought to apply here: "Remove a beam 
from your own eye before you take a speck out of the eye of a friend".

Cheers, TG


Henrik Rosenkvist wrote:
> Hi!
> Some quotes from Talmy Givón, that might be of interest:
> [...] after first trivializing the notions of theory and explanation, 
> transformational-generative linguistics proceeded to trivialize the 
> notion of data beyond all recognition. What followed was an orgy of 
> empirical irresponsibility [...] with linguistics as a whole becoming 
> a sad caricature of late medieval scholasticism (Givón 1979:26).
> "When this volume was written in the early 1980s, I thought it was 
> possible to treat grammar responsibly, in terms of both its adaptive 
> motivation and typological diversity, without an explicit account of 
> the more formal aspects of syntactic structure. These aspects – 
> constituency, hierarchy, grammatical relations, clause-union, 
> finiteness and syntactic control – were matters I took for granted 
> but chose to defer. In retrospect, it was a bad mistake." (Givón 
> 2001:xv)
> "[...] functions without structures are downright lame" (Givón 2001:xv)
> "The research program outlined here pays heed to Chomsky's exhortation 
> to seek universal principles, while affirming the mental reality of 
> syntactic structures" (2001:xvi).
> I think one can see true development here...
> Henrik R.
> john at skrev:
>> Dick,
>> (1) Chomsky's descriptive observations about nominalizations were not 
>> at all
>> original--Jespersen made the same observations.
>> (2) The observations about island constraints were from Haj Ross' 
>> thesis.
>> (3) The competence/performance distinction is basically Saussure's
>> langue/parole.
>> (4) At Penn (where I studied) it was commonly acknowledged that the idea
>> of generative grammar was lifted from Zelig Harris (Chomsky's mentor 
>> there),
>> although I'm not sure that I believe this.
>> John
>> Quoting Richard Hudson <dick at>:
>>> Thanks Aya, Alex and Mark for your views. It's very odd for me to be
>>> defending Chomsky, since I've spent most of my life criticising him, 
>>> but
>>> he's an ordinary human being just like the rest of us, with good points
>>> and bad points. When I said he couldn't be all wrong, I actually meant
>>> he wasn't all wrong - I can easily think of plenty of things that he 
>>> did
>>> that were right, and inspired good work.
>>> My personal list of achievements by Chomsky:
>>> - His 1970 article on nominalisation, with its clear distinction 
>>> between
>>> gerunds and nominalisations.
>>> - His insights into the structure of the English auxiliary system (but
>>> not his morpheme-based analysis).
>>> - His observations on island constraints in syntax - but not his
>>> conclusions.
>>> - His contrast between knowledge (competence) and behaviour
>>> (performance) - but not his catch-all use of 'performance'.
>>> - His idea of formal 'generative' grammar - but not his later
>>> abandonment of the substance.
>>> I dare say I could add some more if I thought a bit longer. These are
>>> all things that he did which influenced my own (generally 
>>> non-Chomskyan)
>>> work, and which I know have influenced plenty of other non-Chomskyans.
>>> And I don't agree that the whole field is so dominated by his doctrines
>>> that other views can't be heard - just think of all the books and
>>> articles and university departments oriented towards other approaches,
>>> from non-Chomskyan formal theories such as HPSG and LFG, to
>>> non-Chomskyan informal work on discourse and the like. I'm sure some
>>> people on this list both disagree with Chomsky and have tenure.
>>> Dick Hudson
>>> -- 
>>> Richard Hudson
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