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Knowledge of Language September 22, 2010 Mission Objectives 1.Wrap up Prescriptivism ~ Descriptivism 2.Try to figure out how language can be creative.

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Presentation on theme: "Knowledge of Language September 22, 2010 Mission Objectives 1.Wrap up Prescriptivism ~ Descriptivism 2.Try to figure out how language can be creative."— Presentation transcript:

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2 Knowledge of Language September 22, 2010

3 Mission Objectives 1.Wrap up Prescriptivism ~ Descriptivism 2.Try to figure out how language can be creative. 3.One outstanding point: African grey parrots! The previous problems with prescriptivism: 1.Confusion about application of prescriptive rules (theyre not natural) Hypercorrection 2.Standards can shift over time 3.Prescriptive rules form a poor understanding of natural language.

4 Problem #3: Missing Patterns Prescriptivist rules do a poor job of accounting for many of the patterns we find in natural language. Heres one prescriptive rule which misses a consistent pattern: Incorrect: I feel bad (about the accident). Correct: I feel badly (about the accident). Why? The verb feel should be modified by an adverb (badly), not an adjective (bad). But is bad/badly modifying the verb or the subject of the sentence?

5 Linking Verbs How about these examples? Bob is happy.(*Bob is happily.) Susie looks hot.(*Susie looks hotly.) The water seems fine.(*The water seems finely.) I feel sleepy.(*I feel sleepily.) James Brown feels good. (*James Brown feels well.) The verbs in these sentences are known as linking verbs. They connect the subject to some property describing the subject. (They do not modify the verb itself.)

6 Different Standards Rules for a standard form of a language… Normally describe the variety of language used by the group in power. Other forms of the language are non-standard. And are often identified with social, regional or ethnic groups. Linguists have discovered that all forms of language (standard or not) are rule-based and orderly. Non-standard forms of the language are not simply mistake-ridden versions of the standard form. There is no linguistic reason to consider one variety of language superior to another.

7 Non-Standard Sentences How do you feel about the following sentences? Im done my homework. My car needs washed. All I do anymore is work. Mary said that she wanted to come with. If someone had invited me, I would have went to the party. Note: the grammaticality of these sentences can vary from group to group, or speaker to speaker. (In a sense, linguistics can be a personal science.)

8 Quick Write: Appalachian English Appalachian English is a variety of English traditionally spoken in the Appalachian mountains. Developed (and maintained) unique features due to isolation from outside communities. One interesting feature: a-prefixing…

9 a prefixing, part 1 1.a. The man likes sailing. b. The man went sailing. Correct answer: (b)(80-5) 5.a. William thinks fishing is silly. b. William goes fishing every Sunday. Correct answer: (b)(77-8) Rule: [a-] form cannot be a noun.

10 a prefixing, part 2 2.a. The woman was coming down the stairs. b. The movie was shocking. Correct answer: (a)(72-13) 6.a. The movie was fascinating. b. The movie kept jumping up and down. Correct answer: (b)(68-15) Rule: [a-] form cannot be an adjective.

11 a prefixing, part 3 3.a. He makes money by building houses. b. He makes money building houses. Correct answer: (b)(68-16) 7.a. Sally got sick cooking chicken. b. Sally got sick from cooking chicken. Correct answer: (a)(63-22) Rule: [a-] form cannot be preceded by a preposition.

12 a prefixing, part 4 4.a. Sam was following the trail. b. Sam was discovering the cave. Correct answer: (a)(77-8) 8.a. The man was hollering at the hunters. b. The man was recalling what happened that night. Correct answer: (a)(80-5) Rule: first syllable of [a-] form must be stressed. Note: Al-freakin-berta Lastly: 50 people got all 8 correct.

13 a Prefixing Summary Note: people often consider speakers of Appalachian English to be unsophisticated …but the proper use of the [a-] prefix involves a relatively complex set of conditions. Also: all of the [a-] forms are prescriptively incorrect …but they still exhibit consistent patterns of grammaticality. You also had (for the most part) the right sense about which forms were grammatically correct. …even though it may have been hard for you to articulate exactly why.

14 Descriptive Benefits Language tends to operate in patterns, even if they are non-standard. Important: Appalachian English speakers are not just speaking English with mistakes. Descriptive linguistics enables us to understand how those patterns work. History of economics analogy.

15 To Be Fair Standards are useful because they provide a single form of the language to teach to non-native speakers. They help establish uniformity in the written language. They can help clear up confusions. for instance: supposably They also help to distinguish those who have mastered the arbitrary rules from those who havent. (for better or worse) Otherwise: They are not useful for (scientific) linguistic analysis.

16 Linguistic Creativity (again) One of the crucial design features of language was creativity (or productivity). Charles Hockett: Language users can create and understand completely novel messages. In a language, new messages are freely coined by blending, analogizing from, or transforming old ones. This says that every language has grammatical patterning. In a language, either new or old elements are freely assigned new semantic loads by circumstances and context. This says that in every language new idioms constantly come into existence. How is it possible for human beings to do this?

17 To Infinity and Beyond Last week, we found out that honeybees can produce a variety of different dance messages. = Food source beyond 65 feet, fly at 0 degree angle with the sun. = Food source beyond 65 feet, fly at 45 degree angle with the sun.

18 To Infinity and Beyond The number of different messages the bees can produce is limited only by the number of angles they can differentiate: Food source beyond 65 feet, fly at 1 degree angle with the sun. Food source beyond 65 feet, fly at 2 degree angle with the sun. …………… Food source beyond 65 feet, fly at 359 degree angle with the sun. Q: Can the bees dance at angles they havent seen before? If so, how?

19 To Infinity and Beyond A: yes, if they dance according to rule. Their dances have to fit into a meaningful pattern. The rule = Food source beyond 65 feet, fly at X degree angle with the sun. The bees have to know the rule. Knowing the rule enables them to exhibit creativity, in a sense.

20 Different Infinities What kind of infinities exist in human language? Note that we can say (translations of) everything the bees can say: Fly at a 1 degree angle with the sun. Fly at a 2 degree angle with the sun. …………… Fly at a 359 degree angle with the sun. We can get as detailed as we want to about it, too: Fly at a 45 degree, 13 minute, 27.6685 second angle with the sun.

21 Infinity + 1 In addition to the infinity of things the bees can say, we can say other things, too. Examples (borrowed from Ray Jackendoff): A numeral is not a numbskull. A numeral is not a nun. A numeral is not a nunnery. …………… A nun is not a nursery. …………… An oboe is not an octopus.

22 Linguistic Infinities These are uninteresting, but novel sentences. In order to understand them, you must know the rule by which they are constructed. Rule: [Sentence] = A X is not a Y. Point: Knowledge of rules is more abstract than just knowledge of sentences.

23 Language Model #1 In this model, all we know are the individual sentences we can use in language. (no rules) This is a good enough model to describe the vervets language. A nun is not a nursery. Fly at a 45 degree angle with the sun. I like linguistics.

24 Language Model #2 In this model, we know all the rules we can use to combine words to form sentences in a language. This is a good enough model to describe the bees language. Is it good enough for human language? A X is not a Y. X at a Y degree angle with the Z. X likes Y.

25 What do you think? No. There are even bigger infinities. Check out these sentences: Bill thinks that Beth is a genius. Sue suspects that Bill thinks that Beth is a genius. Charlie said that Sue suspects that Bill thinks that Beth is a genius. Jean knows that Charlie said that Sue suspects that Bill thinks that Beth is a genius. ad infinitum... Some real examples:

26 How many rules do we need? 1.X verbs that Y is a Z. 2.W verbs that X verbs that Y is a Z. 3.V verbs that W verbs that X verbs that Y is a Z. and so on… Q: Can we store all these patterns in our heads? A: No, because no matter how many we store, there is always a longer one… So how do we know all of these sentences?

27 Language is Recursive Recursive = involving a procedure that can refer to itself. In language, rules for producing sentences can be used in rules for producing sentences. Humans have to know rules of the following kind: [Sentence] = X verbs that [Sentence]

28 Language Model #3 Jackendoff: We know not just patterns of words, but patterns of patterns. This is how we can be infinitely creative with a finite set of rules. S = X likes Y. S = A X is not a Y. S = X verbs that S.

29 Check it out Included among the infinite number of things we can say is a lot of complete nonsense. Examples (from Chomsky and Lewis Carroll): Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. Im memorizing the score of the sonata I hope to compose someday. Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe… Check out the postmodernism generator: http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/

30 Whats the difference? Nonsense sentences work because they fit in with the patterns formed by the sentences that actually do make sense. (and that we use every day) Compare with the following: Large green lizards sleep soundly. Im memorizing the score of the sonata I hope to perform someday. Twas evening, and the slimy toads Did squirm and wiggle in the cage…

31 Whats the difference? (part 2) But the following sentences dont work at all: Green sleep ideas furiously colorless. Im memorizing the perform of the score I sonata to hope someday. Brillig and, slithy and the toves Wabe gimble in the gyre and did… Note: just because we can say an infinite number of things, we cant just say anything…

32 Technical Terminology The set of rules that we know for creating sentences in a language is the grammar of that language. The rules of grammar that we know are very abstract. (patterns of patterns) Strings of words which do not adhere to these rules are ungrammatical. Q: If these rules are so abstract, how did we figure out what they are? How do we learn language?


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