LINGUIST List 5.311

Mon 21 Mar 1994

Disc: Mainstream Linguistics

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  1. , Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics
  2. Steve Berman, 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics
  3. Jacques Guy, Mainstream linguistics or: Turfitis

Message 1: Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics

Date: Fri, 18 Mar 1994 23:08:54 Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics
From: <>
Subject: Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics

schaferling.UCSC.EDU (Robin Schafer) wrote in part:

>Professor Connolly's contribution to the discussion on Mainstream
>Linguistics highlights a sentiment so very often expressed by
>linguists that I wonder whether it can rightfully be attributed to the
>fringe: i.e. the importance of the "real" language. My own experience
>leads me to believe that this is a characteristic of all linguists,
>not a sub-type of them. ...
>I think there are few linguists who do not appreciate "real language"
>precisely in the terms that Professor Connolly describes. So where
>does this split between interest in theory and interest in "real"
>language come from? I think it comes from the linguist's need to hone
>in on a portion of the language system in order to have something
>constant to consider across languages and instances of use.

I'm delighted that Schafer has had such good luck in being able to stay
in contact with real language and be taught by linguists who do the same.
Great. That's how it should be. But little of this is evident in
published GB research. Look at the journals. We see GB or "Barriers"
analyses of English and a few European languages, where they work -- sort
of. But too many of these analyses are, to put it mildly, labored and
unrevealing. Consider Belletti & Rizzi's attempts to use GB for Italian
"inversion" phenomena. The ideas that work and explain the phenomena are
taken over from Relatonal Grammar, which explains the phenomena quite
neatly, though not quite correctly. (Case Grammar would work better.)
The translation to early GB is not felicitous, adding nothing and
confusing much. And I've never seen a half-way convincing GB analysis of
phenomena from an "exotic" language. Indeed, Van Valin in 1985 showed to
my satisfaction that GB could not possibly be applied to "headmarking"
languages. And let's face it: a theory that has caniptions when facing
languages which lack a VP or show basic VSO order is, shall we say,

So while it's fine to "hone in" on one area of language, the result can
be, and too often is, a reluctance to deal with the difficult data.
Don't confuse me with facts; I've got to theorize! And so the exotic
data get lost.

What I'm saying is this: GB linguists try very hard to explain what they
can (surprisingly often, some fine point of English) but really don't
deal with the interesting, "exotic" data. That's too bad.

Steve Berman <> wrote:

> Does someone hold a monopoly on "the data"? Has Connolly's language
> teaching _per se_ led him to linguistic generalizations such as those
> embodied in the Obligatory Contour Principle, the Head Movement
> Constraint, or the conservativity of quantifiers?

For the record, Connolly doesn't have a clue what any of these
generalizations are or entail and strongly suspects that at least the
first two are GB-specific and therefore irrelevant to what he and others
do. But Connolly's language teaching is part of the reason he
understands argument structure in German and many other languages,
including the real reasons for "inversion" of psych verbs in Italian,
German, and many other languages.

--Leo Connolly
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Message 2: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics

Date: Sun, 20 Mar 1994 11:48:53 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics
From: Steve Berman <>
Subject: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics

Sam Wang ( writes:

 > From: Steve Berman <>
 > Does someone hold a monopoly on "the data"? Has Connolly's language
 > teaching _per se_ led him to linguistic generalizations such as those
 > embodied in the Obligatory Contour Principle, the Head Movement
 > Constraint, or the conservativity of quantifiers?

 This kind of statement sounds like OCP and Head Movement Constraint
 are god-given truths. Any justification for that? If they are
 not god-given truths, why are these 'generalizations' so important?

I know of no justification for calling the OCP, etc. god-given truths. As
generalizations, their importance in the context of a discussion of
linguistic data should be self-evident. In empirical work, generalizations
are means of organization, and hence tools for discovering new data. To the
extent generalizations are formulated in theoretical terms--that is, are
made to follow from a theory--, they also provide a way to test the theory.
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Message 3: Mainstream linguistics or: Turfitis

Date: Sun, 20 Mar 1994 10:25:19 Mainstream linguistics or: Turfitis
From: Jacques Guy <>
Subject: Mainstream linguistics or: Turfitis

I learnt a new word the other day, courtesy of our CEO, which nicely
sums up and explains the causes of these distinctions between
"mainstream linguistics" and other varieties. Turfitis. A wonderful
neologism, for it has this rare property that its meaning is precisely
the sum of its parts: an inflammation of one's turf. And we know how
sore an inflamed part is!

If I am to believe one of my correspondents, turfitis is much rarer
among mathematicians than among linguists. And, come to think of it, I
believe him. In fact, turfitis seems endemic with English-language
editors and referees. Why do I single out English-language journals? I
had, not so long ago, submitted two papers to a French journal and three
to a German one. All were accepted for publication by return mail. That,
I hear some say, goes only to show their low standards. What poppycock.
That same correspondent of mine had written a paper on some mathematical
aspects of phonology. He sent it to "Word" and "Language", and I forgot
where else. Everywhere the paper was turned down. Everywhere the
referees' comments showed their complete ignorance of mathematics. They
must have been perfectly aware that their lack of knowledge prevented
them from understanding the paper, and therefore from judging it. Yet,
not one declared himself not competent. Instead, they went on perorating
for pages dropping clanker after clanker, picking a typing mistake here,
questioning the punctuation there.

The unfortunate author of that paper had touched upon a sensitive
(because inflamed) topic (vulgarly: turf). Nay, *two* sensitive topics:

1. The referee's Church of Phonological Theory (whichever that particular
 church may have happened to be).
2. The referee's crass ignorance of mathematics.

Double turfitis!

I will spare you my own experience, from the referee who insisted
on correcting Gauss's formula for the area under the normal curve
to the one who had his very own, very peculiar notion of phoneme
(that was the editor of "Language and Communication", ghost-writing
for an imaginary reading committee).

It is, then, to me, hardly surprising that, some years back, when I
attended a seminar on natural language processing at Monash University
next door, those people, who all had computer science or mathematics
for backgrounds, looked at me like something crawled out of the sewer
when I mentioned that I was a linguist.

Now I may have made it sound as if I shared the view that most linguists
are complete bozos. If some undoubtedly are I have no idea what the
proportion is, nor how many are so by nature or nurture, and how many
are only made to appear so by necessity (keep that tenure track in your
gun sights, protect your and your supervisors' turf).

I shall close with a personal communication from Prof. S.A. Wurm
(Linguistics Dept, Research School of Pacific Studies, ANU), ca 1983, as
a possible illustration of a nice case of turfitis: "You are welcome to
pursue this line of research, but not here."

Et maintenant, noyons le poisson!
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