syntax bigotry

Carl Pollard pollard at
Sat Mar 27 18:50:12 EST 1999

Hi Steve,

For your collection.



1. Years ago when I taught at Carnegie Mellon (the CMU-Pitt joint
graduate program in computational linguistics), Dan Everett, a GBist
at Pitt, refused to pass an HPSG-oriented qualifying paper because
"HPSG is a non-explanatory framework."

2. Karen Van Hoek, now at Michigan, told me that when she was an
undergrad at Irvine, she went to Hagit Borer and ask for some advice
about what to read to learn about alternative frameworks. Borer told
Karen that there was no point learning about alternative frameworks,
because "either he [Noam] is right or he's wrong, and if he's wrong we
might as well all go home."

3. Jan Koster said the following in a piece of email to Andreas Kathol
in October 1995:

  So, in my opinion, Ivan's work is just conservative generative
  grammar again, with non-explanatory explcitiness added (lots of
  features) to please the computer industry (same holds for Bresnan).

4. When Andreas Kathol was a postdoc at Groningen, Jan Koster, who
does not know me personally, wrote the following to him in response to
a remark that I made about not being willing to invest time reading
Chomsky's Ch. 4 (I said "We've all been too badly burned by Chomsky in
the past (in the sense of not having our past efforts rewarded) to be
willing to spend time trying to understand it it -- too little
confidence that there is any actual content" -- here I thought it was
clear that by "not having our past efforts rewarded" I meant not
having our READING efforts rewarded because Chomsky's past writing
turned out to have so little scientific content. Koster wrote back to
Andreas that this remark "reveals the pathology ina nutshell: paranoia
and complaining about not getting enough attention from the feared
father in heaven." I wrote a clarifying message to Andreas for him to
forward to Koster, explaining that I was referring to having my time
wasted by Chomsky's bad and low-content writing, NOT to Chomsky not
paying attention to me. But Koster replied to AK that his English
informants advised him that my words couldn't possibly mean what I
said they meant, and then went on to say:

 Pollard might just mean that HPSG is not taken very seriously by
 Chomsky. But, again, why should he? Nobody outside of HPSG takes
 HPSG very seriously. People might be right or wrong about that, but
 so far I fail to see why it is a moral issue (involving "bad burning"
 in whatever interpretation, unrewarded efforts, etc.).

  [N.B. JK here insists on interpreting "unrewarded efforts" as
  "not having has one's work praised by Chomksy", even though it
  was alreay explained to him that it meant "unrewarded reading
  effort. -- CP]

 Just to avoid misunderstanding, I wouldn't take it very seriously
 either if a group of people would define themselves as GB people, making
 lists of GB departments around the world (as Ivan did for HPSG).
 As I said before, I consider it a bad service to the field to organize
 it along tribal lines. Of course there are approaches to language that
 are far beyond your or my horizon. But LFG, FG, RG, G(H)PSG are all
 within the same conceptual horizons and all products of people who felt
 they were badly burned by Chomsky and who were frustrated by him in
 one way or another. I am not saying that I was never frustrated by
 Chomsky myself, but to a large extent I recognized that as my own
 problem. For you or me it is perhaps crucial what Chomsky thinks of
 our work, but it is very unreasonable to expect of him that he pays
 equal attention to the zillions of papers and developments that are
 around. Everybody is forced to be highly selective, so, why should
 that be different for Chomsky?

Evidently.  as far as Koster is concerned, all the nontransformational
frameworks are a manifestation of a psychiatric pathology related
to a father-rejection complex.

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