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Contemporary linguistics A personal view, from Jeffrey Kallen


generative grammar. Observational adequacyChomsky (1964: 28 29) 'The lowest level of success is achieved if the grammar presents the observed primary data correctly'. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Contemporary linguistics A personal view, from Jeffrey Kallen

Contemporary linguisticsA personal view, from
Jeffrey Kallen
  • What linguistics (alone) does NOT do
  • Imply that linguists know many languages
  • Decide whether it is best to say It is me or
    It is I
  • Account for animal communication systems
  • Explain the development of language in children
  • Prevent languages from dying out
  • Predict the direction of language change
  • Set out plans for language teaching or learning

Chomskys view of adequacy
  • Noam Chomsky, (born 1928), arguably the most
    influential linguist of the modern age. Landmark
    works Syntactic Structures (1957), review of
    B.F. Skinners Verbal Behavior (1959) Aspects of
    the Theory of Syntax (1965) Rules and
    Representations (1980) The Minimalist Program
    (1995). Shifts the focus of linguistics to
    generative grammar.

Observational adequacyChomsky (1964 2829)
  • 'The lowest level of success is achieved if the
    grammar presents the observed primary data
    correctly'. But note that 'what data is relevant
    is determined in part by the possibility for a
    systematic theory ... the fact that a certain
    noise was produced, even intentionally, by an
    English speaker does not guarantee that it is a
    well-formed specimen of his language'. 'Speech is
    subject to various, often violent distortions
    that may in themselves indicate nothing about the
    underlying linguistic patterns'.

Descriptive adequacy
  • A 'higher level of success is achieved when the
    grammar gives a correct account of the linguistic
    intuition of the native speaker, and specifies
    the observed data ... in terms of significant
    generalizations that express underlying
    regularities in the language' (Chomsky 1964 28).
    Implicit is the view that grammars should be
    generative, i.e., they should 'express structural
    relations among the sentences of the corpus and
    the indefinite number of sentences generated by
    the grammar beyond the corpus' (Chomsky 1957

Explanatory adequacy
  • 'A third and still higher level of success is
    achieved when the associated linguistic theory
    provides a general basis for selecting a grammar
    that achieves the second level of success over
    other grammars consistent with the relevant
    observed data. ... In this case, we can say that
    the linguistic theory in question suggests an
    explanation for the linguistic intuition of the
    native speaker' (Chomsky 1964 28). See King
    (1969 13) 'given any number of observationally
    adequate grammars, explanatory adequacy selects
    the descriptively adequate grammar'.

Some fundamental questions
  • How does linguistics relate
  • Form and meaning
  • The individual and society
  • System and use
  • Different historical stages of a language

Ferdinand de Saussure
  • Swiss linguist (18571913) influential in
    historical linguistics, but best known for the
    Cours de linguistique générale (1916), assembled
    by his students at the University of Geneva
    (appeared in English in 1959, re-edited 1986).
    Saussure saw linguistics as part of a wider field
    of semiology, the science of 'the life of signs'.
    Signs relate the signifier (outward form) to the
    signified (concept or idea) in a particular way.

Saussure sign signifié signifiant
  • 'I propose to retain the word sign signe to
    designate the whole and to replace concept and
    sound-image ... by signified signifié and
    signifier signifiant'.
  • Principle I 'The bond between the signifier and
    the signified is arbitrary', i.e., 'the
    linguistic sign is arbitrary'. (Saussure 1916
    1974 67)

Saussure the social system
  • 'In separating language langue from speaking
    parole we are at the same separating (1) what
    is social from what is individual and (2) what
    is essential from what is accessory and more or
    less accidental'. Langue 'is the social side of
    speech, outside the individual who can never
    create or modify it by himself it exists only by
    virtue of a sort of contract signed by the
    members of a community' (Saussure 1974 14).

Saussure separating synchrony and diachrony
  • 'If we considered langue in time, without the
    community of speakers la masse parlante ... we
    probably would notice no change time would not
    influence language. Conversely, if we considered
    the community of speakers without considering
    time, we would not see the effect of the social
    forces that influence langue. (Saussure 1974

Franz Boas
  • Born Germany (1858), died New York (1942).
    'Grounded anthropology and linguistics in
    fieldwork' and 'continually argued that all
    languages are equally viable vehicles for the
    expression of thought, in spite of their formal
    differences, which might reflect differences in
    cultural interests'. Also stressed that 'the
    principles of a language's construction remain
    largely unknown to its speakers' (Foley 1997

Mary Haas
  • Born 1910, died 1996. Studied linguistics under
    Edward Sapir (student of Boas). Fieldwork on
    Native American languages of the southeast
    (Creek, Choctaw, Alabama, etc.), then in
    California and elsewhere. Pioneered linguistic
    description and historical reconstruction of
    undocumented languages. Said to have trained more
    American linguists than Boas and Sapir put

The anthropological tradition
  • Strong emphasis on description, working with
    native speakers
  • Psychic unity the fundamental relationships
    between language and mind are universal
  • Leads to an interest in comparative and
    typological cross-linguistics study

Leonard Bloomfield
  • Born 1887, died 1949. Influenced by Boas, Sapir,
    and Saussure, Bloomfield stressed the importance
    of scientific description in linguistics. 'In all
    sciences like linguistics, which observe some
    specific type of human activity, the worker must
    proceed exactly as if he held the materialistic
    view'. 'Above all, he must not select or distort
    the facts according to his view of what the
    speakers ought to be saying' (Bloomfield 1933

Bloomfield early postulates
  • 'The totality of utterances that can be made in a
    speech community is the language of that
  • 'We are obliged to predict hence the words "can
    be made". We say that under certain stimuli a
    Frenchman (or Zulu, etc.) will say so-and-so and
    other Frenchmen (or Zulus, etc.) will react
    appropriately to his speech. Where good
    informants are available, or for the
    investigator's own language, the prediction is
    easy elsewhere it constitutes the greatest
    difficulty of descriptive linguistics'.
    (Bloomfield 1926 155)

Roman Jakobson
  • Born Moscow 1896, died Boston 1982. Foundational
    to Moscow Linguistic Circle and Prague Linguistic
    Circle (19261939). In US, worked with Boas,
    Bloomfield, Morris Halle, et al. Work covered
    nearly all aspects of linguistics (especially
    phonology), and poetics, semiotics, discourse
    analysis, structural approach to folklore,
    aphasia, language acquisition, and linguistic

Jakobson the system
  • 'I do not believe in things, I believe in their
    relationship' (Georges Braque). 'It is not things
    that matter, but the relations between them'
    (E.T. Bell) 'Attention must be paid not to the
    material units themselves but to their relations'
    (Jakobson 1973). (Waugh and Monville-Burston
    1990 5)

Putting Jakobson in context
  • 'Linguists should ... not abstain from synchronic
    investigation (as did the Neogrammarians) they
    should not dispense with the study of semantics
    (contra the American structuralists) or eliminate
    it from the domain of syntax (as early
    transformational grammarians did). Language
    should not be overemphasized to the detriment of
    parole (as for Saussure), nor competence to the
    detriment of performance (as for Chomsky).
    Furthermore, one should not concentrate on the
    cognitive or referential function of language to
    the prejudice of the other, primordial functions'
    (Waugh and Monville-Burston 1990 32).

Chomsky a look at the fundamentals
  • Form and meaning
  • 'The person who has acquired knowledge of a
    language has internalized a system of rules that
    relate sound and meaning in a particular way. The
    linguist constructing a grammar of a language is
    in effect proposing a hypothesis concerning this
    internalized system' (Chomsky 1972 26).

System accounts for intuitions
  • (1) John is eager to please
  • John pleases someone
  • (2) John is easy to please
  • someone pleases John
  • (3) Colorless green ideas sleep furiously
  • follows grammar but meaning is anomalous

The individual and society
  • If each individual has an innate capacity to
    construct a grammar of whatever language(s) are
    found in the environment, then each individual
    reflects the universal characteristics of
    language. 'If something is true for an
    individual, I'm sure it's true for a society'
    (Chomsky, UCD lecture).

System and use
  • 'Linguistic theory is concerned primarily with an
    ideal speaker-listener, in a completely
    homogeneous speech-community, who knows its
    language perfectly and is unaffected by such
    grammatically irrelevant conditions as memory
    limitations, distractions, shifts of attention
    and interest, and errors ... in applying his
    knowledge of the language in actual performance'.
    'We thus make a fundamental distinction between
    competence (the speaker-hearer's knowledge of his
    language) and performance (the actual use of
    language in concrete situations)'. (Chomsky 1965

Linguistics only as good as the data
  • Adherence to descriptive aims, not language
  • Explicit description in phonetics needs the
    International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)
  • Morphology and syntax need explicit systems of
    description, ideally cross-linguistic
  • What will the data be intuition or
    naturally-occurring data? Individual or societal?

Linguistics which system of rules?
  • Chomsky from (revised extended) Standard Theory
    to Minimalism
  • Optimality Theory
  • Functional Discourse Grammar
  • Role and Reference Grammar
  • Systemic Functional Grammar
  • and new theories of phonology ...

Linguistics where does it stop?
  • Is language unique to humans?
  • How does first language acquisition relate to
    cognitive development?
  • How and why does language change?
  • How do people use language to achieve things in
    the world (make friends, win arguments, promise,
    apologise ...)
  • Do different gender groups use language
  • How can writing systems be designed and adapted?
  • Why do people have strong feelings about some
  • Is access to language access to power?

So many topics to research ...