Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   


From:And Rosta <a.rosta@...>
Date:Saturday, October 27, 2001, 0:45
> --- And wrote: > Matt: > > As I understand it, the chain of reasoning is: > > > > [a] Language is rule-governed: utterances systematically obey > > discoverable rules. (This is a hypothesis, of course, but the > > evidence seems to be strongly in its favour.) > > [b] Language is in our heads: we have linguistic competence. (I take > > this as a given; the only alternative is that supernatural creatures > > are speaking through us. :-)) > > [c] Given (a) and (b), it follows that there are rules in our heads. > > > > I know that this is not a proper syllogism or anything, and it may > > not strictly follow the scientific method (I know far too little > > about the history or philosophy of science). But I just can't see how > > [c] could be a controversial claim. > > I think [c] should be our best guess at what the truth is, but it > doesn't follow from the [a] and [b], and I do see how [c] could be > disputed. It could be that minds generate language rulelessly and > that the discoverable rules are emergent properties of a complex > system, rather as, say, people walking around a plaza are not > individually obeying any rules of traffic flow, yet the flow of > people around the plaza can nonetheless be accurately modelled by > rules. Economics would be a good example of an academic discipline > where this is fairly clearly the case: economic theory mainly deals > with human behaviour but its laws aren't in the minds of individual > economic agents. > > Not that I think that this really applies to language, but I do trot > it out when people complain to me that such and such a rule or theory > is not psychologically plausible, as part of my conception of language > as a nonpsychological object. > --- end of quote --- > > I see your point, but I can't conceive where such a "complex system" > could possibly be, if not in the mind of the individual.
I find it hard to conceive too, though less hard to imagine that different speakers minds have different rules that generate pretty much the same language. My own view is that speakers are endowed with a superb memory for patterns of usage, and rely heavily on it, and also that they throughout life spot patterns in the data and induce rules, but that individuals differ in the degree to which they can and do do this. Language universals I believe to be inevitable features of any system that has to do the communicative job it does within the general constraints of the human cognitive system.
> As you point out, economic laws aren't in the minds of individuals > (there's no Mental Grammar of Economics). But individuals act on > those laws only as part of complex social interactions with other > individuals; they do not demonstrate anything like an internalized > "economic competence". But individuals can be shown to demonstrate > linguistic competence, as when they perform grammaticality judgements > on hypothetical sentences. What kind of knowledge are they accessing > when they do that, if not a system of rules in their heads? (I ask > this knowing full well that some linguists doubt the relevance of > elicited grammaticality judgements as evidence for mental grammar.)
I am convinced that nobody makes grammaticality judgements. People make acceptability judgements, which mainly involves matching the test data to their memories of prior usage, though syntacticians are relatively skilled at factoring these down to de facto grammaticality judgements. But one finds that when people are called upon to make judgements about constructions they have never encountered in usage, they make wildly different judgements, suggesting that individuals induce different rules and to different extents. --And.