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USAGE: Naturalness, etc.

From:John Cowan <cowan@...>
Date:Thursday, November 5, 1998, 17:00
Mattathias Persona scripsit:

> (2) Compositionality: Expressions of the language are composed of > smaller expressions belonging to the same language, and can in turn be > combined into larger expressions. Expressions are formed according to > a finite set of rules. An expression is interpreted by knowing the > meanings of its parts and how those parts are combined.
Well, obviously no natural human language is *radically* non-compositional, but I think it's uncontroversial to say that the amount of non-compositionality is variable. What worries me is that the competence-performance distinction is often exploited so as to shove most of the non-compositionality under the rug (e.g., "Would you pass the salt?" is a muted command, not a request for the listener to evaluate his capabilities or intentions). Per contra, many sentences that are highly compositional are also extremely remote from actual language use (e.g., the notorious "Every sailor loves any sailor").
> Are we really so rare as to be a pleasure? :-) In my experience it's > the functionalists who are the rude ones, always referring to us formalists > as if Generative Grammar were some sort of religion with Chomsky as supreme > and infallible pontiff! :-)
I think the blind hostility is equally distributed among members of both camps, but functionalists have for some years felt that their viewpoint is not taken seriously (hence Nick Nicholas' characterization of Chomsky as "Manufacturer of Consent"), and thus may have felt it necessary to bellow in order to be heard at all. Hopefully this is changing.
> It's well known, after all, that in > situations of widespread bilingualism, languages can evolve to resemble > each other more closely, not only in vocabulary but in syntactic and > semantic structure (witness the 'Spanglish' widely spoken here in LA).
Or the Kannada-Marathi-Urdu exact match I've posted about on this list before: in one village, the languages have modified to match each other exactly in syntax, constituent for constituent, and are separated *only* (but firmly) by lexicon. -- John Cowan You tollerday donsk? N. You tolkatiff scowegian? Nn. You spigotty anglease? Nnn. You phonio saxo? Nnnn. Clear all so! 'Tis a Jute.... (Finnegans Wake 16.5)