amnfn at well.com
Fri Feb 18 19:35:29 UTC 2011
This seems like a very worthwhile undertaking. I do have some
methodological and theoretical questions about your future study.
Reading your "Functional/communicative properties", I found they made
so much sense that I wondered how anyone could disagree with them. This
had me wondering further whether they could be falsifiable --or might they
Take the first one:
"Pre-grammatical communication relies maximally on the lexicon,
leaving communicative intent largely un-coded and thus heavily
dependent on contextual inferences. In contrast, grammatical
communication codes much more of the communicative intent via grammar."
How could that NOT be true? What would an alternative hypothesis be?
Isn't this completely dependent on the idea that language normally
consists of grammar plus lexicon, and that when you take away the grammar,
all you have left is the lexicon -- and context?
Could communicative intent theoretically be coded by the lexicon? Is
that an alternative hypothesis? How would we test for this?
A similar issue comes up with coherence:
"In early child language, for example (ca. Lois Bloom's 1970/1973 1-word
stage, ca. 1 yr old), it approximates 1-clause, thus "mono-propositional coherence". It gradually
gets longer, and is clearly multi-propositional by the so-called 2-word
How would you test for multipropositional coherence at the one word stage?
What would the child have to do to demonstrate mutlipropositionsl
coherence, short of using more than one word per proposition?
A similar issue troubles me when it comes to the structural
properties that you listed:
" The ration of N/V in early child
comminication (e.g. Lois Blooms 1970/1973 transcipts) is highest, and decreases during
How do you do determine what is a noun or a verb, at the one word stage,
for instance, when a single word stands for a proposition? It seems to me
that nouns and verbs are categories that apply only in a contrastive way,
within a grammatically differentiated sentence.
Suppose an English speaking infant pointed to a fly buzzing over the crib
and said "Fly!" How would you know whether it was a noun or a verb?
Even if the child were using a language that had grammatical morphology to
mark nouns and verbs, it might not be appropriate to count it that way, if
the morphology is not productive for that speaker.
This is a problem that crops up with pidgins as well as child language:
that linguists should not decide the grammatical category of the word used
by a pidgin speaker based on the grammatical category that the word has
for a speaker of the standard language. For instance, in an English based
Pidgin where the word "him" is being used as a generalized marker of
transitivity, you're not going to count it as a third person masculine
singular accusative pronoun, are you?
So one of my questions about the methodology of your study on child
language is: how are you going to determine grammatical category in a
child's developing use of a language in the process of acquisition? This
requires not only that you be fluent in the standard language, but also
that you acquire fluency in the idiolanguage used by the subject. I think
it would be hard to do using a corpus. You might need to interact with
some of these children in order to get their context.
On Tue, 15 Feb 2011, Tom Givon wrote:
> Dead FUNK people,
> In 2002 I accepted for publication, in a TSL volume I edited, an article by
> my good friend Dan Slobin. I disagreed strongly with what he had to say, but
> felt that one might as well have a vigorous discussion. In that article, Dan
> challenged the meaningfulness of a whole research programme, that of seeking
> similarities between early child language (1-2 yrs) and other developmental
> ('emergent') processes such as language diachrony, SLA-pidginization and
> language evolution. A week or so ago, Dan cited that article, once again
> implying that it was the last word on the subject, and thus that the
> discussion should be closed.
> In 2009 I published a whole book ("The Genesis of Syntactic Complexity",
> Amsterdam: Benjamins) suggesting, and trying to show, that the discussion was
> far from closed, and that seeking similarities between the four developmental
> trends of language is both theoretically sound and empirically feasible. At
> the time, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I said I was sorely tempted to dedicate
> the book to my old teacher Noam Chomsky, given his infuriating treatment of
> the subject in a 2002 article (Hauser et al. 2002). In retrospect, I see that
> I should have dedicated the book to Dan Slobin, since both he and Chomsky
> were the proximate catalysts for writing the book; and unlike Chomsky Dan is
> still my good friend.
> In his recent FUNK contribution, Dan leveled his guns most specifically at
> the pernicious suggestion (Givon 1979; Bickerton 1981) that the similarities
> between early child language and SLA pidgin could be legitimate and
> revealing. I would like to briefly sketch out the beginning of an answer, and
> also give a promisory note for a more extensive, quantified, text-based study
> that will back up my claims--tho of course I don't intend to close the
> discussion once and for all even then. My investigation of this topic started
> in 1979, in ch. 5, 7 of "On Understanding Grammar" ( NY:Academic Press). I
> set up there a comparison between some of the main structural and
> communicative properties of pre-gram,matical vs. grammatical communication.
> After 30 years of tinkering, that comparison may be summarized as follows:
> FUNCTIONAL/COMMUNICATIVE PROPERTIES:
> 1. *Lexicon over grammar*: Pre-grammatical communication relies maximally on
> the lexicon, leaving communicative intent largely un-coded and thus heavily
> dependent on contextual inferences. In contrast, grammatical communication
> codes much more of the communicative intent via grammar.
> 2. *CoherencPre-grammatical communication relies maximally on
> the lexicon, leaving communicative intent largely un-coded and thus
> dependent on contextual inferences. In contrast, grammat The ration
of N/V in early child comminication
> (e.g. Lois Blooms 1970/1973 transcipts) is highest, and decreases
> codes much more of the communicative intent via grammar.e scope*:
The thematic and/or topical coherence units of
> pre-grammatical communication are much shorter. In early child language, for
> example (ca. Lois BlIn early child language, for
> example (ca. Lois Bloom's 1970/1973 1-word stage, ca. 1 yr old), it
> approximates 1-clause, thus "mono-propositional coherence". It
stage, ca. 1 yr old), it
> approximates 1-clause, thus "mono-propositional coherence". It gradually gets
> longer, and is clearly multi-propositional by the so-called 2-word stage
> (Bowerman 1973, ca. 2-yr).
> 3. *Dependence on care-taker turns*: In early child language (Ochs et al.
> 1979) the one-word contributions of the child are complemented/supplemented,
> both syntactically and communicatively, by the adult interlocutor's
> 4. *Context dependency*: Early child communication is, therefore, much more
> heavily context-dependent.
> 6. *Speech acts*: The ratio of manipulative vs. informative (declarative,
> question) speech acts will be highest in early child language, and will
> decrease over acquisition.
> STRUCTURALLY PROPERTIES:
> 6.*Noun/verb coding ratio*: The ration of N/V in early child comminication
> (e.g. Lois Blooms 1970/1973 transcipts) is highest, and decreases during
> 7. *Grammatical morphology*: The use of productive (as against frozen)
> grammatical morphology is minimal in early child language, and increases
> during acquisition.
> 8. *Grammatical constructions*: In early child language, in part due the 7.
> above, syntactic constructions (speech acts, voice, subordination, etc.) show
> low differentiation. They emerge and differentiate gradually during
> 9. *Syntactic complexity*: Overall, early child language shows minimal
> syntactic complexity, which then increases gradually during acquisition.
> PROMISSORY NOTE:
> All these properties can be studied empirically in a quantified manner--in
> transcripts of natural oral communication. The relevant comparison with the
> adult grammatical register should obviously involve informal oral
> communication. None of these properties are absolute either/or; rather, they
> are all a matter of degree. They must be studied language by language, and
> one would predict that in languages with more-regular morphology the
> acquisition of productive (as against frozen) morphology would come earlier.
> But one would still predict the gradient suggested in 7 above. Further, one
> could predict that in languages where the adult input of verbs obligatorily
> comes with some morphology (Hebrew, Spanish, Navajo), lexical verbs will be
> acquired initially with some frozen morphology; but that morphology would not
> be productive at the earliest stages. Likewise, one could predict that in
> languages where the adult input of nouns obligatorily comes with some
> morphology (Bantu), nouns will be acquired early with frozen morphology; but
> that the richness of Bantu nominal-class morphology, and in particular its
> extensive ramifications into the grammar of both NPs and VPs, will be
> acquired later and gradually.
> So, I hereby promise to find the time to do this kind of quantified
> comparative study, and present the result for y'all to inspect & decide. I
> promise to include at least 4 languages (Hebrew, Spanish, English, Swahili),
> as well as English-based SLA-pidgin. While this is obviously an impoverished
> typological sample, it does include some of the major relevant typological
> parameters. And one needs to know the languages in order to do the study (the
> CHILDES transcripts, alas, come without inter-lineal glosses). I can only
> hope that other people may want to pick up the gauntlet and extend this study
> to other languages. As in other sciences, theoretical arguments can only be
> resolved by well-design empirical investigation. The worst thing one would
> want to see in child language studies is a premature closure.
> Best, TG
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