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The end of history?

Class on some of the historical backgrounds to late 20th Century linguistics
by

Marc van Oostendorp

on 26 November 2013

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Transcript of The end of history?

Historical roots of late 20th century linguistics
Marc van Oostendorp
Generative Grammar
Mentalism
Chomsky broke with empiricism and went back to rationalism and mentalism
Mimicking historical linguistics
malki 'my king'
malka 'my queen'
mlaxim 'kings'
malxey 'kings' (construct state)
Simplicity: An example from English
Harris suggested that I undertake a systematic structural grammar of some language. I chose Hebrew, which I knew fairly well. For a time, I worked with an informant and applied methods of structural linguistics as I was then coming to understand them. The results, however, seemed to me rather dull and unsatisfying. Having no clear idea as to how to proceed further, I abandoned these efforts and did what seemed natural; namely, I tried to construct a system of rules for generating the phonetic forms of sentences, that is, what is now called a generative grammar. I thought it might be possible to devise a system of recursive
rules to describe the form and structure of sentences, recasting the devices in Harris’s Methods for this purpose, and thus perhaps to achieve
the kind of explanatory force that I recalled from historical grammar.
note Thus the historical analogy discussed briefly in §56.2 was actually the source of my own work in generative grammar.
A historical analogy may clarify the point in question. Our general conception of grammar is formally somewhat analogous to a description of historical change. [. . . ] In its full generality, our notion of grammar has the full power of a descriptive statement of historical change.
Noam Chomsky(1928)
Zellig Harris (1909-1992)
The work of analysis leads right up to the statements which enable anyone to synthesize or predict utterances in the language. These statements form a deductive system with axiomatically defined elements and with theorems concerning the relations among them [. . . ] There may be various ways of presenting this system, which constitutes the description of the language structure. The system can be presented most badly in an ordered set of statements. [. . . ] Other types of presentation which have frequently been used have depended ultimately on moving parts models such as machines or historical sciences. In using such models, the linguistic presentation would speak, for example, of base forms (e.g. in morphoponemics, where the observed forms are obtained from the base form by applying a phonemic substitution), of derived forms (e.g. stems plus those affixes which are added first in the descriptive ordermight be called derived stems), or processes which yield one form out of another.
Morris Halle (1923)
Halle has been influential in the early development of generative grammar:
As an organizer (establishing the linguistics department at MIT)
As a student of Roman Jakobson (introducing for example the distinctive feature)
As a phonologist
William Labov (1927)
Sociolinguistics
There is [. . . ] a marked asymmetry between the two bodies of linguistic activity: those doing empirical analysis can use the formal, qualitative analyses developed under an idealist program, but not visa-versa. The latter are satisfied to construct rule schema
without testing for validity against the data of speech production, while the former are not. This transition fromqualitative to quantitative analysis is a familiar
one in the development of science. But the qualitative model of linguistics is not easily displaced. Many forms of linguistic behavior are categorically invariant. Furthermore, the number, variety and complexity of linguistic relations are very great,
and it is not likely that a large proportion can be investigated by quantitative means.At present,we do not know the correct balance between the two modes of analysis: how far we can go with unsupported qualitative analysis based on introspection, before
the proposals must be confirmed by quantitative studies based on observation and experiment.
Reevaluating the chess metaphor
Synchronic linguistics = diachronic linguistics
So far back as we can trace the history of language, the forces which have been efficient in producing its changes, and the general outlines of their modes of operation, have been the same.
(Whitney 1867)
Golden Age Principle: At some time in the past, language was in a state of perfection.
Some differences with Chomskyan linguistics
Methodology is quantitative
The unit of analysis is the community, not the individual (the Central Dogma of Sociolinguistics)
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