Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Re: THEORY: OT Syntax (Was: Re: THEORY: phonemes and Optimality Theory tutorial)

From:Yoon Ha Lee <yl112@...>
Date:Saturday, November 18, 2000, 19:58
On Sat, 18 Nov 2000, John Cowan wrote:

> On Sat, 18 Nov 2000, And Rosta wrote:
> > Not that I've anything against the idea of ranked constraints; I'm just > > mystified at how this simple idea burgeoned into the huge industry that > > is OT (in the USA). The obvious answer is sociopolitical, career-savvyness, > > bandwagon joining, and then the natural tendency of graduate students to > > continue doing what their teachers teach. But can such a huge academic > > juggernaut have such a flimsy intellectual basis, in a discipline that is > > fundamentally rational and quasiempirical? > > Umm, why not? Consider Schoolman metaphysics. Or not to be tendentious, > the (false) flavor of Darwinism that talks of "survival of the fittest", > but upon investigation implicitly defines fitness in terms of mere > differential reproductive success, i.e. survival. > > The highly successful calculus was from its invention by Newtonleibnitz > in the 17th C until the 19th C firmly planted on a foundation of > absolute rubbish, quite rightly mocked by Bishop Berkeley thus:
<wry g> From what I can tell the history of mathematics is filled with examples of speculations and ideas that did indeed turn out to be "rubbish." Theoretical math involves a lot more intuition and guesswork than I realized when I was in high school, when math was just something given to the world etched into a bunch of stone tablets (or such was my impression). Conjectures and proofs rise and fall as new generations of scholars find new ways of thinking. A math prof I had last year told me that he would go to bed happy, thinking that he had found a proof for some problem he was working on, and wake up in the morning unhappy, having overnight realized something was wrong with the proof he had thought worked. "Proof" in math can be pretty darn ephemeral sometimes! To my knowledge calculus stayed around 'cause it worked, and because later mathematicians were able to find a much more solid theoretical foundation for it. (I'd have to review my history-of-math books for details.) The same sort of process seems to be a fairly common phenomenon: some brilliant mathematician comes up with an idea, justifies it with something that doesn't really hold up (probably because intuition can be hard to "justify" sometimes), and then later generations do the foundation-work, as it were. A couple years ago I read an article about how mathematicians today are still working on *proving* conjectures that Ramanujan made, and while some of them turned out to be rubbish, some of them were mysteriously correct, even though Ramanujan himself never apparently offered any proofs! You'd think math would be an example of a discipline where "rationality" would prevent "rubbish" from appearing, and it isn't true. Personally, I'm not surprised this kind of thing shows up in linguistics (or history, or the field of your choice) as well! (Perhaps, as a non-linguist, I'm badly mistaken, but hey.) YHL