Imagine the following not uncommon scenario: Theory T claims that explaining the particulars of phenomenon P requires assumptions A1….An. Someone, S, doesn’t like one or all of these assumptions for a variety of reasons (never discount the causal efficacy of dyspepsia) and decides that T is wrong. Here’s the question: what is S obliged to do? Answer: It depends.
There is no moral, religious, legal, or social obligation that S do anything at all. You can think anything you want, and say anything you feel like saying (as my daughter used to say: “Nobody is the boss of me!”). But, if you want to play the explanation game, the “science” game, then you are obliged to do more, a lot more. You are obliged to explain why you think the assumptions are faulty and (usually, though there are some exceptions) you are obliged to offer an (at least sketchy) non-trivial question begging account of P. S cannot simply note that s/he thinks that T is really really wrong, or that T is unappealing and makes her/him feel ill, or that s/he wished T were wrong for some unspecified, no doubt, humanitarian reason. Doing this is just deciding not to play the game. Sadly, many critics of Generative Grammar have decided that they don’t like the theory, passionately articulate their dissent but do not follow the rules. To repeat: nobody needs to play, but unless you follow the rules nobody should take your views (prejudices?) particularly seriously. Adherence to the rules of the game is the price of admission to the discussion.
You’ve probably guessed why I mention this. A lot of people want their views to be taken seriously despite not playing by the rules. For some odd reason they think they should be exempt because it’s just so clear that they are right and generative grammarians (especially Chomsky and his intoxicated minions) are wrong. But, though this might sustain a warm glow of amour propre it does not admit you to the game. Lest you think that I have descended into caricature, consider a recent short paper by David Adger - Constructionsand grammatical explanation – that does the heavy lifting exposing how far from serious certain well-known forms of construction grammar are. Those interested in the agnotology of science will enjoy this spirited well-aimed take-down. Here’s a teaser quote to whet your appetite:
…CxG [Construction Grammar, NH] proponents have to provide a theory of how learning takes place so as to give rise to a constructional hierarchy, but even book length studies on this, such as Tomasello (2003), provide no theory beyond analogy combined with vague pragmatic principles.
Let me leave you with a simple piece of advice that has served me well: when you hear the word ‘analogy’ reach for your wallet.