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Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

« I Can't Remember Where or When | Main | News From Before the Revolution »



I led a detailed reading group study of Simpler Syntax last year. I'll just point out two criticisms that others have made as well. One, while J&P can't be expected to have tackled every linguistic phenomenon in their book, they ignore the crucial ones: syntactic phenomena that have been argued to provide some of the strongest evidence for the kinds of principles Chomskyan syntacticians argue for. Without dealing with these, its impossible to justify their conclusions. Two, they spend a great deal of time, as you have mentioned here, discussing grammatical phenomena that cannot obviously be explained by appeal to syntax alone. But this is no basis for rejecting the Chomskyan view altogether. It is rather evidence that semantics/pragmatics does indeed play some role in the interpretation of structure and that more work is needed to explore this role and define it. The road they take instead reminds me of the Intelligent Design claims that since evolution can't explain everything about complexity, it must be rejected wholesale.

Their specific formulation, btw, is closely akin to an alternative syntactic framework that has been around in one form or another since the 1970s (known as Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar since 1985). In fact, those of us in the group struggled to find differences. Other than its discussion of some fascinating data from English, many of us in the group found it difficult to see the contribution of the work. I suppose the test will be to see whether insightful scholarship proceeds from the new framework in the years to come.
BLOGGER: The article I cite specificall discusses its relationship to Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar, "Along related lines, a major objective of computational linguistics is to assign meanings to strings of words on the basis of some syntactic analysis; many approaches combine symbolic and statistical methods to identify the syntactic structure associated with a string. The syntactic theory most-widely used in computational linguistics is Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar, one of the frameworks that adopt some version of [the] S[impler] S[yntax] H[ypothesis]. Again, we think that the reason for this choice is that SSH is sufficient for establishing interpretation, and more elaborate structure is unnecessary."

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