Mura Vey (mura_vey) wrote,
Mura Vey

Funny things around

За последние два дня я была очень сильна впечатлена двумя разными людьми. Один из них - американский хореограф Кенни Ортега, который поставил хореографию в фильме "Newsies" и это совершенно гениально. Я уже было совсем отчаялась и думала, что американская хореография в том виде, в котором я когда-то в нее влюбилась до беспамятства в возрасте лет десяти уже больше не бывает. Пойду теперь смотреть им же поставленный High School Musical. Может будет мне счастье.
Второй человек, которым я была впечатлена, был Фредерик Ньюмайер. Он написал фантастическую книжку "Language Form and Language Function". Она начинается со следующего почти платоновского диалога:

1. Setting the stage with a (not totally) imaginary dialogue

Sandy Forman has just successfully defended an MIT dissertation entitled
‘Gamma-Licensing Constraints on Dummy Agreement Phrases and the
Theory of Q-Control: A Post-Minimalist Approach’, and is at the
Linguistic Society of America Annual Meeting hoping to find a job.
Fortunately for Sandy, Minnesota State has advertised an entry-level
syntax position, ‘area of specialization open’, and has asked for an
interview. While waiting in the hallway, Sandy runs into an
undergraduate classmate, Chris Funk, who is also killing time before a
Minnesota State interview. Chris has just finished up at the University of
California-Santa Barbara with a dissertation entitled ‘Iconic Pathways and
Image-Schematic Targets: Speaker-Empathy as a Motivating Force in the
Grammaticalization of Landmark-Trajectory Metaphors’. After the two
exchange pleasantries for a few minutes, Chris provokes Sandy with the
following comment and the fur begins to fly:
Funk: It’s just pure common sense that our starting point should be the
idea that the structure of language is going to reflect what people use
language for ...
Forman: That hardly seems like common sense to me! To begin with,
language is used for all sorts of things — to communicate, to think, to
play, to deceive, to dream ... What human activity isn’t language a central
part of?
Funk: Yes, language serves many functions. But any reasonable person
would have to agree that communication — and in particular the
communication of information — is paramount.
Forman: Well, I don’t share those intuitions at all. It seems to me that a
much more time-honored position, in fact, is that the primary function of
language is to serve as a vehicle for rational thought. And you’re not
going to tell me that the ‘perfect’ vehicle for communication is going to
look like the ‘perfect’ vehicle for rational thought!
Funk: I’m not going to tell you that language is the ‘perfect’ vehicle for
anything. That’s a caricature of the functionalist position. I am going to
say, though, that the functions of language — including that of conveying
meaning — have left their mark on language structure to the degree that
it’s hopeless to think that you can understand anything about this
structure without working out how it’s grounded functionally.
Forman: I’m skeptical about that for a whole lot of reasons. For one thing,
all the people in the world have the same need to communicate. So if
language structure were a response to meeting this need, we’d expect all
languages to be virtually identical — right?
Funk: But that’s assuming that there’s only one way to respond to
functional pressure. Why make that assumption? In the natural world, all
organisms have the same need to ward off predators, but there are
limitless ways to carry out this function. Humans who live in cold
climates have to find ways to keep warm, but that doesn’t mean that
they’re all going to do it the same way. It’s the same thing with language.
It’s in everybody’s communicative interest, say, to be able to modify a
noun with a proposition that restricts the scope of that noun. If one
language forms relative clauses one way and another a different way, that
doesn’t mean that there’s been no response to communicative pressure.
Forman: Don’t you see the trap that line of thinking gets you into? The
more different ways that there are of carrying out the same function, the
hazier the pairings of form and function turn out to be. That’s why it
makes sense to describe how the forms interrelate independently of their
Funk: The fact that the coding by form of function is complex and, to a
degree, indirect doesn’t mean that the pairings are ‘hazy’. In fact, the
situation is just what we would expect. Since the functions of language
place conflicting demands on form, we naturally expect to see those
conflicts resolved in a variety of ways. And we also expect to see an
‘arbitrary’ residue of formal patterns where there’s no obvious direct link
to function.
Forman: What you’re calling an ‘arbitrary residue’ is part-and-parcel of a
structural system right at the center of language. Surely the fact that there
are any number of structural generalizations that cut across functional
lines shows that we generativists are on the right track when we say that
it’s right to characterize form without worrying about function.
Funk: Believe me, the discernible effects of function on form are more than
robust enough to prevent me from giving up my commitment to
explaining grammatical structure in favor of your mechanical ‘autonomist’
approach that attempts to explain nothing.
Forman: I’ll let that remark about ‘explanation’ pass for a moment. What
makes me doubt your point about ‘robustness’, though, is the huge
number of structural properties of language that seem to be not only
useless, but downright dysfunctional! Are you going to tell me that
effective communication ‘needs’ gender marking, agreement rules,
irregular verbs, coindexing mechanisms that only Rube Goldberg could
have dreamed up, and things like that? Yet they’re all an integral part of
the formal structural system in the particular language
Funk: A lot of what might seem dysfunctional at first glance is probably
anything but. I don’t doubt for a minute that gender and agreement, for
example, play an important role in tracking referents in discourse.
Forman: But you’ve got to agree that most of the profound generalizations
about language structure that we’ve arrived at in decades of research in
generative grammar have little, if anything, to do with the functions of
language. What’s communicatively necessary, or even useful, about rules
being structure-dependent? About their applying cyclically? About
abstract principles like the ECP or Spec-Head Agreement?
Funk: A lot of your ‘profound generalizations’ are no more than artifacts
of the narrow scope of the formalist enterprise. If all you’re interested in
doing is pushing symbols around, then you’ll get generalizations about
symbol pushing. Don’t tell me, though, that they have anything to do with
the way language works.
Forman: That strikes me as a totally head-in-the-sand attitude, not to
mention an unscientific one. Generalizations are generalizations. We
wouldn’t expect to find deep formal patterns in language if language
weren’t ‘designed’ that way. What you’re saying is that you won’t accept
any generalization that doesn’t fit in with your preconceived ideas about
how language is supposed to work.
Funk: I could say the same to you! Your head-in-the sand attitude has
prevented you from even asking how much iconicity there is to syntax,
much less discovering there there’s an enormous amount. And that’s only
one example I could cite.
Forman: I’ve never been too impressed with what I’ve seen written about
iconicity. But that would be a debate unto itself. In any event, I can’t think
of any functionalist principle that’s stood the test of time. You guys can’t
even decide if old information is supposed to come before new
information or if new information is supposed to come before old
Funk: You should talk! In one year and out the next is the rule for virtually
every formal principle and constraint that I can think of.
Forman: But most of the time that’s because the new principle has
subsumed the old one and is more general. That’s precisely how scientific
progress is supposed to work.
Funk: What you don’t seem to recognize is that, even on your own terms, a
lot of generative principles have a pretty clear functional basis. To take the
most obvious example of all, there’s the ‘Condition on Recoverability of
Deletion’. And do you think that it’s just a coincidence that many, if not
most, Subjacency and ECP violations are difficult to process? Isn’t it
obvious that structure-dependence and the cycle are simply grammar-
particular instantiations of how human cognition represents complex
structured information in general?
Forman: I’ve heard those points made many times, but I’m not impressed.
Yes, at some fuzzily speculative level we can make up ‘functions’ for
generative principles or analogize them to poorly understood properties
that seem to govern other cognitive faculties. But when you look at them
deeply, their ‘motivations’ disappear. GB and Minimalist principles are
too grammar-specific, too abstract, and too removed from any function to
be a response — even indirectly — to those functions.
Funk: Well, why do we have them in our heads, then?
Forman: Who knows? All we know is that they could never have been
learned inductively by the child — they’re much too abstract and kids
have too little exposure to the relevant evidence. So we can safely
conclude that they must be innate.
Funk: And I’ve heard that point made many times too! The fact is that
you’ve never demonstrated that a theory of inductive learning can’t
acquire the principles of your theory — even if they are correct.
Forman: And you’ve never come up with a theory of inductive learning
that can acquire them. This whole debate over innateness hasn’t gone
much beyond two kids screaming at each other: ‘Can so!’ ‘Cannot!’ ‘Can
so!’ ‘Cannot’. Over and over again.
Funk: So let me ask you again: Why on earth would these principles of
yours ever have ended up being incorporated into the human genome?
Forman: And again, we just don’t know. Maybe some day we will, but not
knowing shouldn’t keep us from trying to come up with the most
adequate theory possible.
Funk: Now let me turn your question to me back to you. If the principles
of grammar are innate, then why aren’t all languages the same?
Forman: As you know, they have to be parameterized in specific ways.
Different languages choose different parameter settings.
Funk: So what determines what the possible parameter settings are and
why one language would choose one over another?
Forman: I assume that the possible settings are also innately provided.
There might well be some principles that determine why some settings
tend to cluster and why changes of settings changes don’t take place
randomly, though the fact is that those issues aren’t very high on our
research agenda.
Funk: Maybe they should be! Why would anybody be interested in a
theory of language that doesn’t place very high on its research agenda the
question of how and why variation exists?
Forman: We’re a lot more interested, frankly, in what all languages have in
common. That’s why language is a key to the nature of the human mind —
and why philosophers for thousands of years have thought that language
is so important, by the way.
Funk: You can learn a lot more about the nature of the human mind by ...
At this point a Minnesota State professor opens the door to the hallway
and beckons Sandy to enter the interview room.

2. The goals of this book

The mini-debate between Sandy and Chris, multiplied by several hundred
pages, forms the subject matter of this book. By a not terribly subtle
onomastic device, I have identified Sandy as the archetypal ‘formal’
linguist and Chris as the archetypal ‘functional’ linguist. I’ve tried to put
in their mouths, as succinctly as possible, all of the major issues that I plan
to take up in detail. Each statement that Sandy and Chris makes
encapsulates a view characteristic of mainstream practitioners of formal
linguistics and functional linguistics respectively. If there is anything
unrealistic about their exchange, it is the fact that it could have taken place
at all! Few functionalists and fewer still formalists are aware enough of the
positions taken by the other side (caricatures of those positions aside) to
make possible the back-and-forth to which we have just been exposed.

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