A. Katz amnfn at
Mon Oct 25 17:46:39 UTC 2010


I agree with the part about function without structure being utter 

I'll have to respectfully disagree on innateness. You write: "No 
reasonable primatologist or child-language scholar could get away with 
such a position." I'm a primatologist. I have raised a chimpanzee in a 
cross-fostering environment with very good results for language 
acquisition, and though I acknowledge that evolution did happen, and that 
we are closely related to chimpanzees genetically, I don't believe that 
the genetic relationship necessarily accounts for the language 
acquisition. I think the environment had a great deal more to do with it.

And I acknowledge that Alex the Parrot, who was less closely related to a 
human than a chimpanzee, also had some excellent results. I don't think 
that we can predict language acquisition ability solely or even primarily 
on the basis of genetics, as there are many healthy humans who do not have 
comparable results to those of some parrots and chimpanzees.

It's possible that Saussure was right and that language is an abstract 
system of signs, and that genetics has only a very small part to play in 
all this.



On Mon, 25 Oct 2010, Tom Givon wrote:

> 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 do No reasonable 
primatologist or
> child-language scholar could get away with such a positiones 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
>>> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>> This message was sent using IMP, the Webmail Program of Haifa University

More information about the Funknet mailing list