Public Linguistics Presentation Q

Ellen Contini-Morava elc9j at
Thu Jun 13 12:12:38 UTC 2013

Oh dear, to be accused of believing in determinative rules!  I'm glad 
you noticed the scare quotes, which were there exactly to place the word 
in others' mouths (such as those of the likely audience of Shannon's 
talk).  My point was that people find it illuminating to discover that 
there are indeed regularities that they may be aware of, in some sense, 
without being conscious of, and simultaneously that nonstandard 
varieties are not chaotic.  Right now we're awaiting some major 
thunderstorms with threat of tornados so I'll limit this post to 
referring you to my response to Wally Reid's paper debunking the English 
verb "agreement rule" (Reid:  "The communicative function of English 
verb number", Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 29, 2011:  
1087-1146);  Ellen C-M: "And now for something completely different:  
Reid on English verb number", pp. 1147-1162 of the same issue).


Ellen Contini-Morava
Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of Virginia
P.O. Box 400120
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4120
phone:  +1 (434) 924-6825
fax:    +1 (434) 924-1350

On 6/13/2013 3:41 AM, Tahir Wood wrote:
>>>> Ellen Contini-Morava <elc9j at> 6/12/7:42 pm >>>
> People also find it cool to discover that they know "rules" that they're
> not aware of knowing, and that these even apply to nonstandard
> varieties.
> Ooh! You've hit right on my current favourite debating topic. You may just be referring to something called 'constitutive rules'. I don't believe that any such things exist and I would really like to canvass other opinions. I'm working at producing a comprehensive manuscript on this soon, but let me just make the main point briefly.
> I would say that the only sorts of rules that exist in language apart from 'regulative rules' (prescriptions basically) are descriptions of regularities. If that's what you mean then I'm with you. But if you mean Searlean constitutive rules then you must be committed to rules as causal or 'creative'. The rules in that case create the regularities, don't just describe them. If so, than I think this is dead wrong. The approach is unscientific because it formulates a rule after having observed a regularity and then it backtracks to say the rule caused the regularity. At best one has a Humean causality in that case: X behaves in manner Y in context C, just because all Xs do. Oops. Constant conjunction redux.
> OK then, one may ask, what about Searle's linguistic example (his only real one as far as I know) around the nasal consonants in 'finger' and 'singer' respectively? The rule is that the velar stop occurs after the nasal whenever the word is not  a noun formed from a verb. Isn't this a clincher? Actually, no, it's not. All the rule has done is describe a pattern not 'created' (Searle's word) it. So what does create it? That is precisely the true scientific question. I think what is at stake is something like Bourdieu's habitus, which I would like to draw into linguistics and then explore further. I wonder if anyone else is interested in this?
> You see, what I have admired in cognitive linguistics is that it has dispensed with Chomskyan rules in explanations of syntax and semantics. That is still very far from a reality in pragmatics unfortunately, which still tends to suffer under the weight of Searlean and Gricean philosophy, but a change is surely gonna come.
> If no-one objects I might just take this debate onto cogling as well. But let me say I appreciate the scare quotes around 'rules' and the important reference to nonstandard varieties, where Searle sees only mispronunciation.
> Best
> Tahir

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