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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

« Visible Syntax | Main | I Can't Remember Where or When »



I read with interest the article in babel’s dawn (
on idiomatic syntax… but I would like to make a few critical comments…

I started study of Chomsky and language early in graduate school, namely, 1967… he was all the rage in the emerging field of cognitive psychology due to his attack on b. f. skinner’s behaviorism…

The cognitive revolution took hold and within 10 years became dominant over behaviorism and bore enormous impact on everything from educational psychology to neuroscience… however, while Chomsky was all the rage in the early years of psycholinguistics his generative grammar was eventually challenged by case grammars (fillmore and others) which are sometimes called “psychologically realistic grammars” when it came to describing how language is produced…

Propositions are relational terms in which a single word (often, but not always, a verb) has imbedded within it one or more noun arguments or noun phrases, e.g., HIT (boy, girl) or PRESIDENT(obama)…

Propositional structures seemed more descriptive of how we think and produce language…
The simpler syntax ideas sketched in the babelsdawn article and in the culicover and jakindorf abstract linked therein ( bears a strong resemblance to my recollections of case grammars… what bothers me here at 6am is that while it should be lauded as seeking an explanation of how syntax (the arrangement of words) came into being, it misses a big function of syntactical elements, namely, to provide cues as to how to comprehend the propositional structure of what’s been said…

Language is filled with tons of apparently not very useful “interstitial” words (in-between words) that look useless in carrying meaning… the point is that they are useful as guides to the underlying propositional structures… the teensy word “the” reliably signals the beginning of a noun phrase… the word “that” signals a relational term is coming up… the rat that ate the malt…

I may be avoiding the core issue of how syntax developed within the earliest origins of language, but I am trying to point out there are some subtle flagging functions carried by syntactic markers… syntax is (IMHO) not just elaborations of idiomatic phrases as apparently put forth by culicover and jakindorf (to be fair, I haven’t read the full article, only the link to the abstract of it was available), but there are other quite different functions of syntax not covered by idiomatic phrase structures…
BLOGGER REPLY: This is a pretty old post to draw such a thoughtful reply, but thanks for the comment.

Lilly Rowling

Discover English idiomatic expression and phrases with complete meaning, sample examples and origin facts, arranged in very simple cataloging structure like search and alphabetically listing, makes it easier to find your idiom.

Freya West

I love to learn idioms and raining cats and dog is my all time favorite idiom.

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