Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Evans replies, the confusion mounts

It seems that our collective efforts are getting some traction. Evans cites the reply of four "distinguished linguists" (Evans' moniker) to his recent paper and book concerning the claims of generative grammar. As you might recall, he think these mythical. In reply to the Distinguished 4, Evans posts (here) a reply on the Psychology Today website. It behooves you to take a look. It's a very shoddy piece. A friend (who shall remain nameless unless s/he wants to reveal him/herself to gain some well deserved kudos) accurately sums it up as follows: 

It goes:" there's lots of empirical evidence against what I think generative grammar is. But that's irrelevant. It's all ideological in the end. Oh, and by generative grammar I mean what I think Pinker thinks Chomsky thinks. "

The confusions we noted in the earlier pieces are all still evident. It seems that Evans really can't grasp the difference between Greenberg and Chomsky Universals. See his myth #2.  In fact, he doesn't even recognize the difference between substantive and structural universals.  Moreover, given examples of such Chomsky structural universals as targets fro potential critique, Evans chooses to, once again, evade any detailed discussion. Mr Evans find me some mirror image rules in any G of any natural language. Or find me cases where extraction of adjuncts out if islands is licit. Or show me cases where anaphoric pronouns can c-command their antecedents. Let's talk tachlis Mr Evans, enough magisterial pronouncements.

Evans' other myth busters are similarly confused. Having universal principles does not preclude learning (or acquisition, a term I prefer) pace Evans' myth #3. In fact, it has been suggested that it is what enables acquisition to proceed despite the evident poverty of the linguistic input (we've discussed this endlessly on PoS).

Contra myth #4 modularity is actually pretty well established in cognitive neuroscience. Does Evans deny that sensation is modularized in the brain? Is the occipital lobe an illusion? How about V1? As for language, there is currently little evidence for localization as exists for audition and vision. But there is quite a lot of evidence for modularity in Fodor's sense of informational encapsulation. There is tons of evidence for the autonomy of syntax, evidence that is behavioral, developmental and neural. This is reviewed in the Curtiss paper we linked to (and Evans refrains from discussing). Indeed, the current work we discussed by Dehaene points to the very same conclusion (here). Thys, contra Evans' confident pronouncements, there is quite a lot of evidence for the modularity of both minds and brains and more specifically for certain types of linguistic knowledge.

There is much more shoddy argument in the rest of the post. Take a look for Evans' reply is instructive. It seems that Evans really has NO answers to our very cursory critique. It's all just pronouncements from on high. It's junk. Serious junk given its potential influence, but junk nonetheless.  Take every opportunity to dump on it when drinking this holiday season with friends, neighbors, casual acquaintances and people you are stuck with on the metro.  Spread the word: What Evans has to say about linguistics is garbage. It is wrong, unargued, misinformed and very very confused. Happy Holidays!

1 comment:

  1. So confusion is mounting, eh? I admit I was somewhat surprised by your challenge: "Mr. Evans, me cases where anaphoric pronouns can c-command their antecedents. Let's talk tachlis Mr Evans, enough magisterial pronouncements."

    Rather aggressive rhetoric given that it is based on a claim regular readers of this blog know you have been told is false. Hard to believe you would have forgotten the exchange you had with Paul Postal on this blog?

    Now Paul pointed out that there are cases in French, Albanian, Greek and even in the very exotic language English. Maybe you hoped, Lyv did not read the exchange? Naughty, very naughty. I hope Santa already delivered the gifts...

    Here are a few of Paul's examples:
    b. local anaphoric licensing. This is explicated as: “e.g. no reflexives without a local c-commanding antecedent.”
    Comment: I take the latter phrase to be the law. It is far from clear since from the beginning, no characterization of ‘anaphor’ was given independent of associated principles like this. I ignore that. What I would say, in fact have said in an article with Haj Ross, is that the claim is false. ‘Inverse Reflexives’ in the 2009 festschrift for Terry Langendoen: Time and Again, John Benjamins, Amsterdam. Also never responded to as far as I know. In it we describe French, Albanian and Greek simple
    clauses which arguably violate your formulation. These cases reveal inter alia a
    generalization. Roughly, the claim is not valid in general when there is a ‘derived’ subject (as in e.g. passives) which is reflexive with the antecedent in some nonsubject position. Interestingly, one can see this reflected even in English. The pair:
    (1) *Herself was described by Harriet to Arthur.
    (2) *Herself described Harriet to Arthur.
    work just the way your formulation claims they should. But consider:
    (3) It was herself that was described by Harriet to Arthur.
    (4) *It was herself that described Harriet to Arthur.
    One sees the same effect manifested in the non-English simple clauses I referenced.
    When one fills in the traces that the views under discussion posit, one will see that your principle claims that (3) is like (4), when it manifestly is not.
    c. Principle C effects: an anaphor cannot c-command its antecedent.
    This comes reasonably close to having a law like character.
    Alas, it also crashes against (3).
    Paul sent me a copy of the paper he co-wrote with Haj - I gladly make it available to your readers. I also think this would be a good time to issue an apology to Vyv, don't you agree?