Daniel Everett dan.everett at MAN.AC.UK
Tue Sep 30 20:15:35 UTC 2003

Eitan's point is a very useful one.

Ken Pike wrote quite a bit on taking three perspectives on language -
'particle, wave, and field'. Most of what he said about this still
baffles me and I suspect that it is because the metaphors from physics
quickly hit the law of diminishing returns. However, the basic ideas
were just this: the 'particle' perspective is looking at the
grammatical entity as an isolated unit - what seem to be  its positive
defining characteristics in isolation (e.g. bilabial, voiceless,
occlusive, etc.). The 'field' perspective would be to consider how the
unit fits into the local pattern - is, for example, /p/ opposed to /f/
or /b/ or both in the language in question? Is their symmetry in the
'phoneme chart' (charts and paradigms being the 'paradigmatic' (pardon
the pun) field perspectives). The 'wave' perspective was how the unit
behaves in a local context in natural speech, e.g. assimilation, etc.

Typological or theoretical work always runs the danger of interpreting
entities out of context and interpreting them thus less usefully. Thus,
as Eitan observes, it can be seriously misguided to compare structures
without carefully trying to understand them in their local context
according to at least these three perspectives that Pike urged upon us.
Hockett seems to have found Pike's urgings in this regard irritating
because Pike's math skills and training underdetermined his math
statements, but still the metaphor is useful, it seems to me.


On Tuesday, Sep 30, 2003, at 20:08 Europe/London, Eitan Grossman wrote:

> Regarding the matter of 'explanations' in linguistics, especially of
> the
> cognitive or functional sort, I think that they are not all that
> different
> from generativist 'explanations.' Whether one looks for motivation or
> explanation in some imaginary mental 'organ' or in some version of the
> economy principle, one is making one's job much easier, by refusing to
> treat
> one of the more intriguing and demanding aspects of language: it
> systematicity. After all, after one has decided that a given language
> has a
> certain pattern or feature, it can be compared superficially with other
> languages that have the same pattern or feature. However, the problem
> of
> structural value must also be addressed. It is not enough to note that
> two
> given languages have, for example, a nominal-rheme sentence pattern;
> one
> should also determine the value of the nominal sentence, its
> oppositions and
> neutralizations vis-a-vis other nexus patterns, as well as its internal
> structure. It is only at this point that valid and important
> cross-linguistic comparisons can usefully be made. I realize that this
> would
> slow down the accumulation of cross-linguistic data and complicate the
> identification of valid cross-linguistic generalizations -- but one
> would
> gain a much sharper resolution as a result. Additionally, I would
> venture to
> guess that many 'pseudo'-generalizations would be winnowed out.
> I realize that such blatant structuralism is probably seen as somewhat
> outdated, but judging from what I have read in contemporary typological
> research, it would probably do no harm.
> Eitan Grossman
> Jerusalem
> _________________________________________________________________
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Daniel L. Everett
Professor of Phonology
Postgraduate Programme Director
Postgraduate Admissions Officer
Department of Linguistics
The University of Manchester
Oxford Road
Manchester, UK M13 9PL
Fax: 44-161-275-3187
Office: 44-161-275-3158

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