Let’s return now to the beginning of the exposition. Reiss 2016:1 starts out with a Lennon-Ono riff ( https://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/yoko-ono-added-as-songwriter-on-john-lennons-imagine-w488104 , thanks Karthik!):
“Imagine a theory of phonology that makes no reference to well-formedness, repair, contrast, typology, variation, language change, markedness, ‘child phonology’, faithfulness, constraints, phonotactics, articulatory or acoustic phonetics, or speech perception.”(I wonder if you can.) Having excluded all of this stuff he wants to argue “that something remains that is worthy of the name ‘phonology’.” Unless he’s using these terms in ways we don’t understand, there would seem to be no substance left at all, as the resulting phonology can’t make reference to the motor and perceptual interfaces and any statements about precedence relations (phonotactics) are excluded. We’re also puzzled about how one can construct a formal system without employing any well-formedness conditions (axioms). And a theory without any substance is not a theory of anything. Similarly, an interface that doesn’t effectively transmit any information between two modules is not an interface but the lack of an interface.
Put in Marrian terms (Marr 1982, you knew this was in the cards when you started reading), there have to be some linking hypotheses between the computational, algorithmic and implementational levels (Marr p. 330 "the real power of the approach lies in the integration of all three levels of attack" emphasis added), and there must be reasonable interfaces which include compatibility in data structures between any connecting sub-modules contributing to the overall solution of the problem (e.g. the different visual coordinate systems, Marr 1982:317ff).
Max Papillon tells me [wji] that I’m misreading all this, and that I’m not the target audience anyway. (I do get it that I’m not considered much of a phonologist these days, the basis of a long-running joke in the Maryland department.) Perhaps then this is all a Feyerabend 1975 ish move, providing an ascetic formalist tonic to the hedonistic excess of substance, as Feyerabend 1978:127 explains in one reply to a book review (in the section called “Conversations with Illiterates”):
“I do not say that epistemology should become anarchic or that the philosophy of science should become anarchic. I say that both disciplines should receive anarchism as medicine. Epistemology is sick, it must be cured, and the medicine is anarchy. Now medicine is not something one takes all the time. One takes it for a certain period of time, and then one stops.” (emphasis in original)Strengthening the comparison with Feyerabend, I recall Joe Pater’s comment to Mark Hale after Mark’s talk at the MIT Phonology 2000 conference, “I know what you are. You’re a philosopher!” The Feyerabend analogy is how I understood the Hale & Reiss 2000 charge of “substance abuse”: there’s too much appeal to substance, and this should be reduced (take your medicine). As a methodological maxim "Reduce Substance!" then I'm all on board. But let's not confuse ourselves into thinking that all reference to substance can be completely eliminated, for the theory has to be about something.
Fortunately, we think there are relatively concrete proposals to be made that start right where Chomsky suggests, with features and precedence. Our proposal (tune in next time) can be read as Raimy 2000 on steroids, with dollops of Avery & Idsardi 1999, Poeppel & Idsardi 2012 and Kazanina, Bowers & Idsardi 2017. (Do people take steroids with dollops of anything? Maybe with those articles as a chaser? Sorry for the mixed metaphors.)
Let’s sum up here with an attempt at our understanding of what substance and substantive should mean in the context of developing modular theories for complicated things like speech and vision. Entities or relations in the model are substantive to the degree that they do explanatory work within the model and have lawful connections across the interfaces to entities and relations in other modules. Such things are the substance of the theory. Entities or relations in the model that do not have such lawful connections are the (purely) formal or non-substantive things (we will suggest some). But this can be a hard matter to establish in any particular case, for the lawful connections will tend to be partial rather than total. The bumper sticker version of all this is “substantive = veridical and useful”.
Next time: Swifties