LINGUIST List 5.311

Mon 21 Mar 1994

Disc: Mainstream Linguistics

Editor for this issue: <>


  • , Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics
  • Steve Berman, 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics
  • Jacques Guy, Mainstream linguistics or: Turfitis

    Message 1: Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics

    Date: Fri, 18 Mar 1994 23:08:54 Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics
    From: <>
    Subject: Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics

    schaferling.UCSC.EDU (Robin Schafer) wrote in part:

    >Professor Connolly's contribution to the discussion on Mainstream >Linguistics highlights a sentiment so very often expressed by >linguists that I wonder whether it can rightfully be attributed to the >fringe: i.e. the importance of the "real" language. My own experience >leads me to believe that this is a characteristic of all linguists, >not a sub-type of them. ... > >I think there are few linguists who do not appreciate "real language" >precisely in the terms that Professor Connolly describes. So where >does this split between interest in theory and interest in "real" >language come from? I think it comes from the linguist's need to hone >in on a portion of the language system in order to have something >constant to consider across languages and instances of use.

    I'm delighted that Schafer has had such good luck in being able to stay in contact with real language and be taught by linguists who do the same. Great. That's how it should be. But little of this is evident in published GB research. Look at the journals. We see GB or "Barriers" analyses of English and a few European languages, where they work -- sort of. But too many of these analyses are, to put it mildly, labored and unrevealing. Consider Belletti & Rizzi's attempts to use GB for Italian "inversion" phenomena. The ideas that work and explain the phenomena are taken over from Relatonal Grammar, which explains the phenomena quite neatly, though not quite correctly. (Case Grammar would work better.) The translation to early GB is not felicitous, adding nothing and confusing much. And I've never seen a half-way convincing GB analysis of phenomena from an "exotic" language. Indeed, Van Valin in 1985 showed to my satisfaction that GB could not possibly be applied to "headmarking" languages. And let's face it: a theory that has caniptions when facing languages which lack a VP or show basic VSO order is, shall we say, limited.

    So while it's fine to "hone in" on one area of language, the result can be, and too often is, a reluctance to deal with the difficult data. Don't confuse me with facts; I've got to theorize! And so the exotic data get lost.

    What I'm saying is this: GB linguists try very hard to explain what they can (surprisingly often, some fine point of English) but really don't deal with the interesting, "exotic" data. That's too bad.

    Steve Berman <> wrote:

    > Does someone hold a monopoly on "the data"? Has Connolly's language > teaching _per se_ led him to linguistic generalizations such as those > embodied in the Obligatory Contour Principle, the Head Movement > Constraint, or the conservativity of quantifiers?

    For the record, Connolly doesn't have a clue what any of these generalizations are or entail and strongly suspects that at least the first two are GB-specific and therefore irrelevant to what he and others do. But Connolly's language teaching is part of the reason he understands argument structure in German and many other languages, including the real reasons for "inversion" of psych verbs in Italian, German, and many other languages.

    --Leo Connolly

    Message 2: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics

    Date: Sun, 20 Mar 1994 11:48:53 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics
    From: Steve Berman <>
    Subject: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics

    Sam Wang ( writes:

    > From: Steve Berman <> > > Does someone hold a monopoly on "the data"? Has Connolly's language > teaching _per se_ led him to linguistic generalizations such as those > embodied in the Obligatory Contour Principle, the Head Movement > Constraint, or the conservativity of quantifiers?

    This kind of statement sounds like OCP and Head Movement Constraint are god-given truths. Any justification for that? If they are not god-given truths, why are these 'generalizations' so important?

    I know of no justification for calling the OCP, etc. god-given truths. As generalizations, their importance in the context of a discussion of linguistic data should be self-evident. In empirical work, generalizations are means of organization, and hence tools for discovering new data. To the extent generalizations are formulated in theoretical terms--that is, are made to follow from a theory--, they also provide a way to test the theory. --Steve

    Message 3: Mainstream linguistics or: Turfitis

    Date: Sun, 20 Mar 1994 10:25:19 Mainstream linguistics or: Turfitis
    From: Jacques Guy <>
    Subject: Mainstream linguistics or: Turfitis

    I learnt a new word the other day, courtesy of our CEO, which nicely sums up and explains the causes of these distinctions between "mainstream linguistics" and other varieties. Turfitis. A wonderful neologism, for it has this rare property that its meaning is precisely the sum of its parts: an inflammation of one's turf. And we know how sore an inflamed part is!

    If I am to believe one of my correspondents, turfitis is much rarer among mathematicians than among linguists. And, come to think of it, I believe him. In fact, turfitis seems endemic with English-language editors and referees. Why do I single out English-language journals? I had, not so long ago, submitted two papers to a French journal and three to a German one. All were accepted for publication by return mail. That, I hear some say, goes only to show their low standards. What poppycock. That same correspondent of mine had written a paper on some mathematical aspects of phonology. He sent it to "Word" and "Language", and I forgot where else. Everywhere the paper was turned down. Everywhere the referees' comments showed their complete ignorance of mathematics. They must have been perfectly aware that their lack of knowledge prevented them from understanding the paper, and therefore from judging it. Yet, not one declared himself not competent. Instead, they went on perorating for pages dropping clanker after clanker, picking a typing mistake here, questioning the punctuation there.

    The unfortunate author of that paper had touched upon a sensitive (because inflamed) topic (vulgarly: turf). Nay, *two* sensitive topics:

    1. The referee's Church of Phonological Theory (whichever that particular church may have happened to be). 2. The referee's crass ignorance of mathematics.

    Double turfitis!

    I will spare you my own experience, from the referee who insisted on correcting Gauss's formula for the area under the normal curve to the one who had his very own, very peculiar notion of phoneme (that was the editor of "Language and Communication", ghost-writing for an imaginary reading committee).

    It is, then, to me, hardly surprising that, some years back, when I attended a seminar on natural language processing at Monash University next door, those people, who all had computer science or mathematics for backgrounds, looked at me like something crawled out of the sewer when I mentioned that I was a linguist.

    Now I may have made it sound as if I shared the view that most linguists are complete bozos. If some undoubtedly are I have no idea what the proportion is, nor how many are so by nature or nurture, and how many are only made to appear so by necessity (keep that tenure track in your gun sights, protect your and your supervisors' turf).

    I shall close with a personal communication from Prof. S.A. Wurm (Linguistics Dept, Research School of Pacific Studies, ANU), ca 1983, as a possible illustration of a nice case of turfitis: "You are welcome to pursue this line of research, but not here."

    Et maintenant, noyons le poisson!