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Linguist's Lounge / Re: "A little Greek (and linguistics?) is a dangerous thing"
« Last post by Daniel on December 02, 2018, 03:07:45 PM »
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Some sort of workbook would be a dream, although as you have pointed out on my other post - what flavour would the workbook take!
There are many textbooks out there (a few intro-to-linguistics textbooks may have accompanying workbooks, although more advanced/specialized textbooks do often include some exercises at the end of chapters, but you might not get an answer key either way).
But you're right that textbooks tend to pick a certain theoretical approach and go with it (as if it is fact), so you'll need to somehow, before deciding to work through it, get a sense of whether it's the right approach for you. There isn't a one-size-fits-all answer to this, although you could look around on university websites to see which books are used where, so that if, for example, you want to follow a Chomskyan approach you'd get the books used at MIT, and so forth. So if you have a favorite linguist you could see what textbook they teach with. At least that's somewhere to start. Note that some areas are more theoretically polarized than others (syntax is the most).

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Re. stay close to previous research, could you clarify?
The easiest way to make a contribution or just come up with ideas on your own, is to find the one-step advance from existing work. If you come up with your own research agenda disconnected from existing research you'll have a much harder time integrating it and also making much progress on your own. For example, for a term paper or thesis, it's much easier to find an existing methodology and apply it to something slightly new, rather than coming up with something all on your own. (I say this as someone who has explored new ideas maybe more than I should have in terms of making more work for myself.)

Another way to approach all of this is to just try to understand what's going on in different approaches. A good starting point is empirical: start with typology for example, and then work your way into theories.
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Linguist's Lounge / Re: "A little Greek (and linguistics?) is a dangerous thing"
« Last post by Matt Longhorn on December 02, 2018, 05:54:24 AM »
Thanks for the response Daniel.
Some sort of workbook would be a dream, although as you have pointed out on my other post - what flavour would the workbook take!
Re. stay close to previous research, could you clarify?
Re. contributions - I think I will leave that to the big players other than starting to work it into my teaching of first year Greek
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Linguist's Lounge / Re: "A little Greek (and linguistics?) is a dangerous thing"
« Last post by Daniel on December 02, 2018, 12:47:44 PM »
You're ready. You just asked the question that shows you are.

At first you learn a bit and think you know a lot, then you learn more and realize you don't know much at all. Then you can approach topics (and especially conclusions) cautiously, and work it out from there. At some point you might become an expert and think you know a lot again, but that's dangerous too.

Sorry I don't have any more specific advice, but we're all trying to figure out how to navigate the diverse and long traditions of research in the field and find our own contributions. One bit of practical advice I would have is to try to stay close to previous research: find a paper, a book, whatever, and think about your contributions as the logical next step from there, rather than a leap to something new and unexplored.
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Semantics and Pragmatics / Re: Construction Grammar and Relevance Theory
« Last post by Daniel on December 02, 2018, 12:43:09 PM »
Overall good points panini, and I agree with most of it. A couple comments:

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Rather than claiming that Chomsky's theory isn't even a theory, I would (or might) say that it makes fewer claims than some other theory. That, b.t.w., is about the current theory, not the full 70-year cycle of theorizing associated with the gentleman. His current theory is vastly superior to his early-80's theory in deleting claims. The ontology of syntax is greatly reduced relative to the old days, although perhaps not as reduced as it was in the really old days.
I don't disagree that Chomsky has a theory in mind when he talks about language, but it hasn't been published anywhere. He's tinkering with ideas that are components of a theory, but at best I'd call it a "theory in progress".

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I have to take issue with Daniel's claim that Generative Grammar isn't a theory, it is a collection of approaches. ... HPSG, Aspects theory, LFG, GB and so on are instances of GG.
Those are all different theories. I don't see how you can think of "Generative Grammar" as a theory. It's an approach, with some theoretical ideas. There's way too much internal disagreement to consider it to be a unified theoretical whole.
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...It is a theory, specifically that there exists a mental system of computations which constitute human linguistic competence (the ability to generate and evaluate utterances in a language), which can be symbolically modeled...
I'm not sure what "it" it is you're speaking of! That's the problem. And what they have in common, if anything, is a hypothesis rather than a theory.
To look at this another way, "falling" isn't a theory of physics, and arguably not even "gravity", but some specific theory of how gravity works would be. Broad approaches like "Generative Grammar" fall in one of the first two categories, certainly not the third.
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I don't know if Construction Grammar is, but I suspect based on the Berkeley-HPSG connection that it is.
CxG is explicitly not "generative" according to some, and certainly not "Generative" in the proper-noun sense. There are so many flavors of it that some may considered generative in some ways, but that's not the purpose of the approach. It's a functional approach, rather than a formal one, and therefore not about creating grammars that generate sentences. Fundamentally different things. You might be able to turn it into one, but it's not meant to be, at least not by the majority of linguists who use it.

--
Of course there's little point in us arguing about terminology here, so it may not be worth me debating these points-- overall you're right to say what you've written, because we don't know exactly what "theories" are :)
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Semantics and Pragmatics / Re: Construction Grammar and Relevance Theory
« Last post by Matt Longhorn on December 02, 2018, 05:06:09 AM »
Thanks panini - at this point I can simply say that I am now well and truly out of depth but hope that Daniel will respond as this is taking a very interesting turn
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Linguist's Lounge / "A little Greek (and linguistics?) is a dangerous thing"
« Last post by Matt Longhorn on December 02, 2018, 05:00:58 AM »
A question about acquisition of linguistics, specifically: is it possible to progress in linguistics when doing it in your spare time... and how do you know when you know enough linguistics to not be dangerous?
The question is based on my self-study of Greek. When I first completed a first year grammar (yup, had to do it twice as I didn't do any after that for a year or so) I thought I had it cracked. I "read" (aka funbled) my way through the gospel of John with the help of an aid and thought that I was pretty good. I then cracked open some reference grammars and found page after page after page on even just one small construction or sometimes even word.
Of course, I didn't learn from my mistakes and finished the reference grammars and thought I had it cracked and then the real work began... reading books on some of those small areas, from more than one side. Reading my way through the new testament and still finding myself stumped every so often.

So, I now know that I don't know everything, and I know that there are huge amounts more books to read, as well as continuing to immerse myself in the language and now working through linguistics books. The point is, at many times I knew just enough to be stupid out loud. So my question is this... how do you know when you have learned enough to not be dangerous in a subject like linguistics? You can't just pick up a book and see if your reading is progressing like with a foreign language; I would say that you possibly can't even judge just by finding it easier to read text books and journal articles.
Any thoughts? Sorry for the long-winded post
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Semantics and Pragmatics / Re: Construction Grammar and Relevance Theory
« Last post by panini on December 02, 2018, 04:59:22 AM »
The question "what is a 'theory'?" is one of those unresolved issues in epistemology. There is no theory of "theory". The word "theory" is so vague, taken out of context, that all you can say is that it's a mental object of some kind that relates epistemological objects to what they refer to. When you specify "theory in this context", you can get more specific and the word becomes less useless. Because linguists think they are scientists (not clear to me if that is really true but let's say it is), then you start reading the literature on what scientific theories are. Of course, you have to know what "science" is, in particular what kinds of theories are not scientific theories.

Typically, physical scientists approach the problem via exemplification rather than definition, and the examples are drawn from the history of physics. A typical bottom-line criterion is that statements in a theory are either true or false, and the truthiness or falsity of the theory is determined by observation. Moreover, the statements of a theory are sufficiently specific that they unambiguously refer to a particular state of existence – for example, "there will be an electron at this position in space-time".

However, people also like to add other things to the theory of theory. One is the idea that a theory should be well-supported with many strands of evidence; or, it should be the most parsimonious account of a phenomenon. Usually, people add a requirement of explanatoriness, that something is a theory only if it explains an aspect of nature. The problem with those add-ons is that they are subjective and not subject to empirical disconfirmation and quantification. In linguistics, the "explanatory" card is played quite often, with one side asserting they they find theory X to be more explanatory, and rejecting theory Y because it doesn't "explain". The "many strands of evidence" criterion also fails to say how many is required to be "many". The many-strands add-on moves "theory" from being a logical object to being a social object (which is indeed one theory of theory).

One simple characterization of "theory" that I have encountered is that it is a collection of assumptions about a field, which, given a model of an experiment in the field, predicts the outcome of that experiment. Although I disagree with this, it's not completely horrible. It has the disadvantage that it depends on the sociological concept "field", but it's not worse than other accounts of "theory" which still implicitly embrace the field-relative nature of theory. In fact, there are no scientific theories other than those covering fundamental forces and entities in physics: under strict versions of what a theory is, "theory" would be generally useless for the conduct of science. Rather than reject the concept "theory" itself, I think we have to embrace the idea that there are theories in linguistics, that linguistic theories are not as powerful as those of particle physics, but they are still theories.

Rather than claiming that Chomsky's theory isn't even a theory, I would (or might) say that it makes fewer claims than some other theory. That, b.t.w., is about the current theory, not the full 70-year cycle of theorizing associated with the gentleman. His current theory is vastly superior to his early-80's theory in deleting claims. The ontology of syntax is greatly reduced relative to the old days, although perhaps not as reduced as it was in the really old days.

I have to take issue with Daniel's claim that Generative Grammar isn't a theory, it is a collection of approaches. It is a theory, specifically that there exists a mental system of computations which constitute human linguistic competence (the ability to generate and evaluate utterances in a language), which can be symbolically modeled. HPSG, Aspects theory, LFG, GB and so on are instances of GG. I don't know if Construction Grammar is, but I suspect based on the Berkeley-HPSG connection that it is.











So people will say that a theory


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Semantics and Pragmatics / Re: Construction Grammar and Relevance Theory
« Last post by Daniel on December 02, 2018, 11:12:45 AM »
The problem is that the metric for "deciding" between "theories" is not clear. Certainly more data (from experiments or otherwise) will shift theories so they're more compatible with the new data, but since most "theories" aren't set up to be falsifiable (and thus abandoned) from new data, they'll just continue, slightly revised. Some theories are also "immune" to certain kinds of data, if they are set up only to explain for example, the "core" facts of language (as opposed to additional "peripheral" facts), or for Generative theories that split "Competence" from "Performance" (thus making at least some experimental results irrelevant, in principle). Fundamentally the problem is that when you can adjust a theory instead of abandoning it, the course researchers take is mostly determined by their own interests/expectations rather than data. (For example, Chomsky's Minimalist Program wasn't designed to deal with new data-- in fact the existing Government & Binding approach to syntax was doing relatively well empirically, maybe even better than some current approaches, but Chomsky decided for theory-internal reasons he'd rather have something more concise.)

That said, both Relevance Theory and Construction Grammar have, as far as I know, embraced the experimental/empirical developments in the field, so they likely will lead to many changes (and already have made some). Whether that will profoundly change the approaches or eliminate some of the controversy remains to be seen.

One likely shift in the future that hasn't seen widespread implementation yet is the application of grammatical theories to computational projects, to the extent that it will have an effect on which grammatical theories remain popular for non-applied, purely theoretical work in Linguistics too. This is already happening to some degree with corpus linguistics and Construction Grammar, but not to the extent that seems likely in the future.
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Semantics and Pragmatics / Re: Construction Grammar and Relevance Theory
« Last post by Matt Longhorn on December 02, 2018, 10:36:01 AM »
Really helpful again. Thanks Daniel
Just out of curiosity, and I guess this could be a separate post in its own right, but do you think that experimental pragmatics will help things along and help decide between the debates? I recognise that there will still be differences, just curios as to whether you think this has potential to move us towards developing theories akin to those in physics that you mentioned earlier.
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Semantics and Pragmatics / Re: Construction Grammar and Relevance Theory
« Last post by Daniel on December 02, 2018, 10:28:24 AM »
Handbooks are a unique/odd/interesting category in themselves, and probably one of the best places for you to start as an independent learner.

Most handbooks contain papers from well-known linguists and are edited by important scholars in the subfield. So you're likely to get some quality research there. However, the actual content is not really like a textbook, nor is it necessarily the sort of overview you might expect. In some cases, "handbooks" actually include original research, even new theoretical points, not unlike normal journal articles (maybe like a collection of the best articles that should have been written already). There are almost always some solid overview chapters, though, so that's a place to start. Handbooks are also especially useful for the selected bibliographies so you know where else to read more. Some handbooks focus more on an overview of earlier work so they read almost like textbooks, but at the same time they also often try to be comprehensive, considering different theoretical perspectives-- so you'll find chapters that completely disagree with each other (or at least summarize opposing arguments). A typical textbook used in a class will be more concise and focus more on a particular set of ideas and present them as if they are a single, coherent, comprehensive theory.

For that book in particular, it really is a survey of different theoretical approaches. Part I begins with Goldberg's chapter that's a summary of different approaches (she is one of the founders of 'Construction Grammar' in a narrow sense), then has contributions by others who have different ideas, and Part II is literally a survey of different approaches. The other parts are applying these ideas-- probably a shared core, but also expect variation by author in certain assumptions. And some may contain some original research or reiteration of new ideas from other recent papers.

So this looks like a good place to start, but be aware of the diversity as you begin reading it. You certainly don't need to read it cover to cover either. And overall this will be a good introduction to how research in Linguistics works, too: it's not a single line of thought from beginning to end, being augmented by the next paper. It's dozens of lines of thought, shifting, interacting, conflicting, and merging and splitting. Your job as a scholar reading about all of this is to at the same time (1) pick up on a particular theory/approach you can work with and want to know more about, and also (2) familiarize yourself with variation from that approach. Both depth and breadth are important, and it can be a challenge. Sometimes you'll also need to get to know several decades of research in order to understand certain current claims, because it's all connected and not always explicitly worked out each time.
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