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Contemporary linguistics A personal view, from Jeffrey Kallen What linguistics (alone) does NOT do:  Imply that linguists know many languages  Decide.

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Presentation on theme: "Contemporary linguistics A personal view, from Jeffrey Kallen What linguistics (alone) does NOT do:  Imply that linguists know many languages  Decide."— Presentation transcript:

1 Contemporary linguistics A personal view, from Jeffrey Kallen What linguistics (alone) does NOT do:  Imply that linguists know many languages  Decide whether it is best to say ‘It is me’ or ‘It is I’  Account for animal communication systems  Explain the development of language in children  Prevent languages from dying out  Predict the direction of language change  Set out plans for language teaching or learning

2 Chomsky’s view of adequacy Noam Chomsky, (born 1928), arguably the most influential linguist of the modern age. Landmark works: Syntactic Structures (1957), review of B.F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior (1959); Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965); Rules and Representations (1980); The Minimalist Program (1995). Shifts the focus of linguistics to generative grammar.

3 Observational adequacy Chomsky (1964: 28–29) 'The lowest level of success is achieved if the grammar presents the observed primary data correctly'. But note that 'what data is relevant is determined in part by the possibility for a systematic theory:... the fact that a certain noise was produced, even intentionally, by an English speaker does not guarantee that it is a well- formed specimen of his language'. 'Speech is subject to various, often violent distortions that may in themselves indicate nothing about the underlying linguistic patterns'.

4 Descriptive adequacy A 'higher level of success is achieved when the grammar gives a correct account of the linguistic intuition of the native speaker, and specifies the observed data... in terms of significant generalizations that express underlying regularities in the language' (Chomsky 1964: 28). Implicit is the view that grammars should be generative, i.e., they should 'express structural relations among the sentences of the corpus and the indefinite number of sentences generated by the grammar beyond the corpus' (Chomsky 1957: 49).

5 Explanatory adequacy ' A third and still higher level of success is achieved when the associated linguistic theory provides a general basis for selecting a grammar that achieves the second level of success over other grammars consistent with the relevant observed data.... In this case, we can say that the linguistic theory in question suggests an explanation for the linguistic intuition of the native speaker' (Chomsky 1964: 28). See King (1969: 13): 'given any number of observationally adequate grammars, explanatory adequacy selects the descriptively adequate grammar'.

6 Some fundamental questions How does linguistics relate  Form and meaning  The individual and society  System and use  Different historical stages of a language

7 Ferdinand de Saussure Swiss linguist (1857–1913); influential in historical linguistics, but best known for the Cours de linguistique générale (1916), assembled by his students at the University of Geneva (appeared in English in 1959, re-edited 1986). Saussure saw linguistics as part of a wider field of semiology, the science of 'the life of signs'. Signs relate the signifier (outward form) to the signified (concept or idea) in a particular way.

8 Saussure: sign = signifié + signifiant 'I propose to retain the word sign [signe] to designate the whole and to replace concept and sound-image... by signified [signifié] and signifier [signifiant]'. Principle I: 'The bond between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary', i.e., 'the linguistic sign is arbitrary'. (Saussure [1916] 1974: 67)

9 Saussure: the social system 'In separating language [langue] from speaking [parole] we are at the same separating: (1) what is social from what is individual; and (2) what is essential from what is accessory and more or less accidental'. Langue 'is the social side of speech, outside the individual who can never create or modify it by himself; it exists only by virtue of a sort of contract signed by the members of a community' (Saussure 1974: 14).

10 Saussure: separating synchrony and diachrony 'If we considered [langue] in time, without the community of speakers [la masse parlante]... we probably would notice no change; time would not influence language. Conversely, if we considered the community of speakers without considering time, we would not see the effect of the social forces that influence [langue]. (Saussure 1974: 78)

11 Franz Boas Born Germany (1858), died New York (1942). 'Grounded anthropology and linguistics in fieldwork' and 'continually argued that all languages are equally viable vehicles for the expression of thought, in spite of their formal differences, which might reflect differences in cultural interests'. Also stressed that 'the principles of a language's construction remain largely unknown to its speakers' (Foley 1997: 195).

12 Mary Haas Born 1910, died Studied linguistics under Edward Sapir (student of Boas). Fieldwork on Native American languages of the southeast (Creek, Choctaw, Alabama, etc.), then in California and elsewhere. Pioneered linguistic description and historical reconstruction of undocumented languages. Said to have trained more American linguists than Boas and Sapir put together.

13 The anthropological tradition Strong emphasis on description, working with native speakers Psychic unity: the fundamental relationships between language and mind are universal Leads to an interest in comparative and typological cross-linguistics study

14 Leonard Bloomfield Born 1887, died Influenced by Boas, Sapir, and Saussure, Bloomfield stressed the importance of scientific description in linguistics. 'In all sciences like linguistics, which observe some specific type of human activity, the worker must proceed exactly as if he held the materialistic view'. 'Above all, he must not select or distort the facts according to his view of what the speakers ought to be saying' (Bloomfield 1933: 38).

15 Bloomfield: early postulates 'The totality of utterances that can be made in a speech community is the language of that speech-community'. 'We are obliged to predict; hence the words "can be made". We say that under certain stimuli a Frenchman (or Zulu, etc.) will say so-and-so and other Frenchmen (or Zulus, etc.) will react appropriately to his speech. Where good informants are available, or for the investigator's own language, the prediction is easy; elsewhere it constitutes the greatest difficulty of descriptive linguistics'. (Bloomfield 1926: 155)

16 Roman Jakobson Born Moscow 1896, died Boston Foundational to Moscow Linguistic Circle and Prague Linguistic Circle (1926–1939). In US, worked with Boas, Bloomfield, Morris Halle, et al. Work covered nearly all aspects of linguistics (especially phonology), and poetics, semiotics, discourse analysis, structural approach to folklore, aphasia, language acquisition, and linguistic universals.

17 Jakobson: the system 'I do not believe in things, I believe in their relationship' (Georges Braque). 'It is not things that matter, but the relations between them' (E.T. Bell) 'Attention must be paid not to the material units themselves but to their relations' (Jakobson 1973). (Waugh and Monville- Burston 1990: 5)

18 Putting Jakobson in context 'Linguists should... not abstain from synchronic investigation (as did the Neogrammarians); they should not dispense with the study of semantics (contra the American structuralists) or eliminate it from the domain of syntax (as early transformational grammarians did). Language should not be overemphasized to the detriment of parole (as for Saussure), nor competence to the detriment of performance (as for Chomsky). Furthermore, one should not concentrate on the cognitive or referential function of language to the prejudice of the other, primordial functions' (Waugh and Monville-Burston 1990: 32).

19 Chomsky: a look at the fundamentals  Form and meaning 'The person who has acquired knowledge of a language has internalized a system of rules that relate sound and meaning in a particular way. The linguist constructing a grammar of a language is in effect proposing a hypothesis concerning this internalized system' (Chomsky 1972: 26).

20 System accounts for intuitions (1) John is eager to please [John pleases someone] (2) John is easy to please [someone pleases John] (3) Colorless green ideas sleep furiously [follows grammar but meaning is anomalous]

21 The individual and society If each individual has an innate capacity to construct a grammar of whatever language(s) are found in the environment, then each individual reflects the universal characteristics of language. 'If something is true for an individual, I'm sure it's true for a society' (Chomsky, UCD lecture).

22 System and use 'Linguistic theory is concerned primarily with an ideal speaker-listener, in a completely homogeneous speech- community, who knows its language perfectly and is unaffected by such grammatically irrelevant conditions as memory limitations, distractions, shifts of attention and interest, and errors... in applying his knowledge of the language in actual performance'. 'We thus make a fundamental distinction between competence (the speaker-hearer's knowledge of his language) and performance (the actual use of language in concrete situations)'. (Chomsky 1965: 3–4).

23 Linguistics: only as good as the data Adherence to descriptive aims, not language prescription. Explicit description in phonetics needs the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) Morphology and syntax need explicit systems of description, ideally cross-linguistic What will the data be: intuition or naturally- occurring data? Individual or societal?

24 Linguistics: which system of rules? Chomsky: from (revised extended) Standard Theory to Minimalism Optimality Theory Functional Discourse Grammar Role and Reference Grammar Systemic Functional Grammar and new theories of phonology...

25 Linguistics: where does it stop? Is language unique to humans? How does first language acquisition relate to cognitive development? How and why does language change? How do people use language to achieve things in the world (make friends, win arguments, promise, apologise...) Do different gender groups use language differently? How can writing systems be designed and adapted? Why do people have strong feelings about some languages? Is access to language access to power?

26 So many topics to research...


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