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

From:Yoon Ha Lee <yl112@...>
Date:Saturday, November 18, 2000, 21:12
On Sat, 18 Nov 2000, Marcus Smith wrote:

> Yoon Ha Lee wrote: > > ><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 > > You get this in linguistics as well. If you read material from the early > days of linguistics, there is quite a lot of rubbish in it. There is also > quite a lot of insight that was simply formalized is wrong, so imcorrectly > dismissed by later researchers.
That's quite interesting--someday, when I learn more linguistics, I'd like to find a history of the field. :-) Right now, I know too little about a lot of things for such a history to make much sense to me. (I'm working on phonetics/phonology right now....)
> >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. > > In generative linguistics, this happened with what is called the > A-bar-trace. The theory stated that when you move a topic or wh-pronoun to > the front of a sentence, it leaves behind a "trace" - a footprint in the > structure, if you will. The evidence was weak but the intuition was good. > During the late 70s or early 80s, they began running tests on brain > activity during speech. Brainwave patterns seem to corroborate the > existance of traces in a very dramatic way. Once the "moved" word has been > pronounced, the brain goes into a flurry of activity which only goes away > once the speaker reaches the point where the trace was hypothesized to be. > That is actually very startling, and I really doubt any syntactician > expected evidence of this kind. Similar evidence of the A-trace is lacking, > but syntacticians ignore that fact.
Oddness! Are brainwave patterns used to corroborate other kinds of findings? Is this a common way of researching things in linguistics, or...?
> >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! > > I have read linguists who never have anything reasonable to say. And yet > they are quite famous in the field. They point out interesting and > troublesome facts, but the way they account for them is non-sensical. Or > rather, they are possible according to the technical capabilities of the > theory they work under, but they are counter-intuitive as to why that > should be the proper analysis. For me, Chomsky falls into that category > most the time.
<wry g> I started reading something that was *supposed* to be a layman's intro to Chomsky and gave up after about 10 pages, partly because the thing seemed abstruse, partly because my knowledge of grammatical terminology was pretty poor (it's better now, but I don't claim it's good!). I should try again now that I know a *little* more about linguistics, and see if he makes any sense now. Theoretical linguistics is probably going to be beyond my grasp until I have time to do more catch-up reading, unfortunately.