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I think the missing ingredient is communication. Some want to treat language as something other than a form of communication. They seem to want language to be a form of abstract algebra without a purpose/function such as communication. Language is basically social because it is basically communication and communication is basically social.Can anyone explain why the idea of communication seems to be shunned?
BLOGGER: Chomsky is very clear in his lecture. The function of language is NOT communication, it is thought of an improved variety.

Karthik Durvasula

I have given you some flak before for misunderstanding/miquoting Chomsky's words. I have to say this review was very fair and balanced. And I really enjoyed reading it; and seeing exactly where you disagree.

I have read Mortensen et al's work (a couple papers, not all of it :)), and from what I can see they make a few predictions which to me are most probably incorrect. If you ever do a review of their work (or perhaps you already have, and I missed it), I will definitely comment and let you know which parts I disagree with. :)

@Janet: About "They seem to want language to be a form of abstract algebra without a purpose/function such as communication" - I think the simple point one needs to see is at some level scientists are looking for systematicity. If X doesn't have a system...there is nothing to be studied. And something that is systematic can always be reduced to "abstract algebra". If you cannot reduce it to that, then you cannot study it. The curious truth is that there are things we cannot study scientifically even if we know they exist.

This is not a sentence I would use early in a text book about piloting attention.

This made me wonder how you might use it late in a textbook about piloting attention. I decided to make this an exercise and came up with this.

At _HE_, attention is directed at the protagonist of the sentence.
At _WONDERED_, the direction of attention is refined from the protagonist in general to a specific aspect of him: his thoughts.
The listener is also directed to anticipate learning what the protagonist wondered about. Anticipation is really a form of future-directed attention.
At _WHETHER_, attention is refined to a more specific type of wondering: wondering whether as opposed to, say, wondering how.
At _THE MECHANICS_, attention is directed at mechanics, while remaining within the context of the protagonist's thoughts.
At _FIXED_, attention is directed at mechanics fixing something, and the listener anticipates learning what the protagonist wondered whether the mechanics fixed.
At _THE CARS_, the sentence is complete, and attention is directed at the whole scenario.

Would you make any additional remarks?

Karthik Durvasula

I just happened to see this in SciAm. I thought it would be an interesting read, as a continuation to the discussion of "abstract algebra" in linguistic theorising -

Again, I am not saying there cannot be another way of doing things. A lot of people in the biological/psychological sciences have adopted non-formal approaches. However, as I pointed out in an earlier blogpost, the one scientific methodology that has given us incredible returns in the physical sciences is that of abstraction (from the absolute data), and formalisation of problems. If one wants to go against the established trend, one may do so, but they have to show convincing reasons for doing so.
BLOGGER: Physics envy has been a regular part of the history of science and has paid off well. Lavoisier used it to create modern chemistry, and Lyell brought its standards to geology. But they didn't try to pretend that they could just apply physics idealization wholesale. Every physics idealization can be justified by masses of experiments. They are not just assertions. Chomsky's physics envy is promising, but he shouldn't pretend we have masses of experimental data that justify all his idealizatiions.

Karthik Durvasula

"They are not just assertions. Chomsky's physics envy is promising, but he shouldn't pretend we have masses of experimental data that justify all his idealizatiions."

This is just false. There is a tonne of work that is published regularly in theoretical linguistics journals that supports the position. Furthermore, there is really interesting work from Univ. of Maryland and NYU amongst others that is very strongly theory-inspired experimental work (EEG, MEG, FMRI, behavioural experiments) that is adding a wonderful new dimension to the theoretical claims.

I am afraid you aren't aware of these developments, and arguing from a position of ignorance.

It is one thing to have a difference in opinion, and another thing all-together to discredit a whole methodology based on an incorrect "assumption" of a lack of evidence.

I repeat an earlier comment that you often succumb to common folklore about the generative linguistic paradigm, and unfortunately shrink the work of the whole enterprise to a single man. And this is the crux of the difficulty.

Roberto Gonzalez-Plaza

pardon for me for asking Mr or Ms Durvasula: could you say what is the wonderful new dimension?

Raymond Weitzman

I am very curious to know what "behavioural experiments" Karthik Durvasula is referring to that are adding a new dimension to the theoretical claims of Chomsky.

Karthik Durvasula

1) This is not Chomsky's theoretical claims we are talking about; It's an entire field's theoretical claims. ("...unfortunately shrink the work of the whole enterprise to a single man")

2) I am not sure if the last two commenters are showing sarcasm; if it is, that is unfortunate and shows the view point of an uninformed person. If it is not sarcasm and instead an genuine interest, my current comment is irrelevant, and I commend the interest.

3) The wonderful research work I refer to is the work of Colin Phillips (UMD), Alec Marantz (NYU), Pylkannen (NYU), David Poeppel (NYU) and their many past/present students; who have not only shows deep syntactic hierarchies as proposed in generative linguistics, but also shown evidence for "island constraints" which were first developed way back in Ross's dissertation in the late 1960's and have been a very productive venue of research in the generative syntax paradigm since then.

4) The work by Bill Idsardi (UMD), Aditi Lahiri (Oxford) and many others arguing for evidence of abstract phonological representations thru very sophisticated neurobiological techniques techniques.

5) I do want to point out that by defining language as broadly as many on this blog, and by making it almost synonymous with just any communication system, a lot of the discussion remains in a mushy, almost unscientific, even untestable, area. There is a tonne of evidence for both the viewpoint I referred to earlier on and theoretical claims developed since the mid 50's. If you are not aware of them but still think you are holding a nuanced theoretical position, then I am afraid you should be reading more journals and fewer blog posts.

Karthik Durvasula

6) I also refers the readers to the work of Bill Labov (UPenn), and Charles Yang (Upenn) who have shown that even the incredible sociolinguistic variation apparent in natural languages is amenable to a generative framework. As they argue, not only is it "amenable", it is in fact best accounted for in such a fashion.

Karthik Durvasula

All right, the unnecessarily antagonist tone of point (5) was probably not helping the discussion, and if anything would distract everyone from the meat of the matter. I apologise for it.

Jerry Moore

Regretively, Colin Phillips’s work is lacking the basic theoretical foundation except from few speculative remarks of N.Chomsky and is vague going around neuro and motor processing of various grammatically driven speech constructs. I wonder how they define Language: as some attribute of speech practice?, grammar processing? Any idea? His discovery of phonemic mismatch is not making for Linguistics more then graphemic mismatch in: “The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm.”

Karthik Durvasula

@Jerry Moore: I won't argue with the first half of your comment because it appears to be your opinion. I can add this much though: this is NOT an opinion shared by modern theoretical linguists, who see the work as in fact very-well laid of theoretically.

Re your question: the Phillips camp, as far as I know, will be one of the last people to think of language "as some attribute of speech practice". Their view is more about how to study language - which is by taking theoretical entities seriously, and testing them (than the rather mundane task of defining what language is - which is mostly a pop-science issue to a professional theoretical linguist. (Disclaimer: I do acknowledge, it appears to be an important question for anthropologists).

The second comment about "graphemic mismatch" and how it relates to "phonemic mismatch" seems to be way off the mark. I am guessing you are referring to the Mismatch Negativity (MMN) experiments conducted by the Phillips et al. MMN as an MEG/EEG paradigm has a relatively long and respectable history in the brain-imaging literature, and what Phillips et al do is to say if you extend the logic of MMN, you should get to abstract phonological represntations, which they go ahead and show. Not only do their experiments have a sound theoretical (linguistic) footing, their experimental paradigm (MMN) and their linking hypothesis all flow very nicely out of what we think we know about MMN's- which is what makes their result especially awesome!

To be quite honest, I can't imagine that you have honestly read the papers carefully and come to the conclusion. I almost wanna believe there is some trolling here (in Jerry Moore's name). But, if you really are Jerry Moore, and you honestly believe that the second part of your comment is evidence-based, then I can tell you that you are neither with most (if not all) experimental neurobiologists nor with most (if not all) theoretical linguists on this matter - and this is from a person who has participated in both kinds of research, not a non-professional linguist.

Jerry Moore

Karthil Durvasula, did you ever tried to formulate what is research of Chomsky et al. about? Language? Speech?
If it is targeting Language (as the plural for all spoken languages), it is tragically lacking Universals, as the most of results of the study statistically circumcised and hardly able to substantiate a qualitative approach.
If it is targeting Language (as the “biological presets” or “organ” [N.C.] for the grammar acquisitions), it supposes to be brave enough to state principal role of the formal (grammatical) structure and clear explain the derived or secondary status of the semantic hub of such “presets”. Till then neurolingustic part of that study is dealing with the unclear types of stimuli.
Few equations. You wrote:
“modern theoretical linguists, who see the work as in fact very-well laid of theoretically”
Can you advance us to that theory? In brief. It not supposes to be a secret one.
You wrote:
“the Phillips camp (I like your word “camp” J.M.), as far as I know, will be one of the last people to think of language …(cut)... Their view is more about how to study language - which is by taking theoretical entities seriously”
Could you point as any of their developed methodology or somehow summarise their advances in study?
You wrote:
“the rather mundane task of defining what language is - which is mostly a pop-science issue to a professional theoretical linguist”
Are you serious? With philosophy like this it is no wonder that main achievements of this branch of science (2 billion dollars pull of mainly taxpayers’ money) is the development of all sort of talking vending machines and automated telephone services so far.
On this note, please, let me leave unchallenged the last part of your comment.
BLOGGER: i don't mind commenters yelling at each other, but this dspute seems to me to have run out of gas.

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