Syntax Wars: The Saga Continues

On the blog of (“the free and open forums on linguistics, language, and languages and the study thereof … operated by and for people interested in linguistics”), for Star Wars Day, 5/4 (May the Force), the playful “Syntax Wars: The Saga Continues”:

(Hat tip to Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky.)

The Last Descriptivists. We struggle on, ordinary working grammarians trying to make sense of the way the syntax of particular languages works, following in the traditions of the compendious grammarians of these languages, of fieldworkers on them, and of typologists, using the conceptual apparatus and methods of modern formal linguistics.

We’ve been at it for over 50 years within the broad framework of generative grammar and for over 80 years if you embrace the work of our structuralist predecessors as well (which I do, because that’s where I started my career in formal linguistics).

Return with me now to the University of Kansas in 1999 (roughly 20 years ago), site of the Mid-America Linguistics Conference that year, where Geoff Pullum presented a paper “Formal Linguistics and the Ordinary Working Grammarian”. You can look at it in the volume of published papers from the conference, available on-line here. Well, that’s a rattily scanned copy of the published paper, but you can at least piece out what Geoff wrote — significantly, just a few years before Huddleston & Pullum’s compendious Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, a monument of descriptive linguistics, came out (in 2002).

(I don’t figure at all in this paper of Geoff’s, by the way. These remarks aren’t really about me.)

Geoff’s paper honored a prequel paper, “On Generativity”,  delivered by Chuck Fillmore at the 1969 Goals of Linguistic Theory conference at the University of Texas (and published in a 1972 volume named after the conference and edited by Stan Peters). That was the paper in which Chuck introduced the notion of the Ordinary Working Grammarian (briefly characterized in my own terms above).

See, that got us back 50 years, in what now seems to me like “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”.

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