Monday, June 1, 2015

Gillian's Blog

For FoLers that do not yet know about this, Gillian Ramchand has started a blog and has posts talking about the Athens conference. Here is the first entry and you can go from day 1-3 following the links that are there. Go and look at it. Before signing off here, let me now say a quick word about her descriptions of what I was trying to say in Athens.

I largely agree with GR's descriptions of what took place. However, I think the she over interpreted the intent of my brief for top down theory. I did not intend to say that this is the only way to generate interesting ideas, rather that this is a good way to do so and that the field as a whole is very suspicious of it. Indeed, I would say, that there is a general antipathy towards this kind of argumentation and it is held to far higher standards than are more descriptive endeavors. I also think that this is particularly unfortunate now because the field is ripe for such speculation. It is only coherent when there exist a budget of roughly good MLGs and we now have some of these. Are they perfect? No. Are they ok. Yes. We need to avoid making the perfect the enemy of the good.

Moreover, we have concrete models of how good "premature" speculation can be. Chomsky's 'On Wh Movement' is the poster child for this. The description of islands was not perfect and yet this high level synthesis did, in retrospect, provide a positive fillip for the field. There is no reason to think that the same won't be true again now.

Last point: I guess that contrary to many, including GR, I think that there are good ideas in "performance" accounts for us to start speculating about: in particular to start asking what they might mean for syntactic theories. Colin mentions some of these on GR's blog and we have produced several theses trying to integrate these considerations at UMD (see Kush's thesis for example). What I have found interesting is that it is possible to start putting these different ideas together in fruitful ways so it seems odd not to start doing this. Will this mean that syntacticians might have to learn something about memory? Sure. Is this bad? No. Isn't this the kind of reluctance that we regularly excoriate psycho types about (i.e. that they just don't want to know any syntax?). I should add that it is interesting that Luigi and me were the least skeptical about trying to get something positive out of marrying syntax with psychology and I think that this is because we've seen it done well, thus we have good paradigms to aim for (and we need more of these). There are always BAD examples of such combinations. But then there is always lots of bad everything. IMO, it is not premature to try to combine ideas from cognition with those in syntax. This may fail, but this is always true. My feeling is that the reluctance is often less intellectually rooted than it is institutionally rooted. It would expose us to new empirical challenges. Good. But this sentiment might not be widely shared and this is a potential problem. As Luigi emphasized (and I completely agree) unless we start re-establishing contact with the rest of cog-neuro the half life of linguistics will be very short and its results will be less and less relevant to the big issues of the day. That would really be too bad.

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