[b-hebrew] knowledge of language versus language use (was Pronoun )nky in Judg 6:8)

Robert Holmstedt rdholmst at uwm.edu
Sat Oct 9 00:27:38 EDT 2004


I agree with you that there is often a difference (register, perhaps?)
between written and spoken language.  And certainly forming sentences is
not an "unconscious" process (or I couldn't even be typing at this very
moment).  And I try (but don't always succeed) in choosing my words
carefully, when writing or speaking.  ;-)

However, since there is very little that is intuitive about putting a verb
before a subject, or vice versa, or even being able to carry information
over from one statement to the next (e.g. gapping), how in the world are
we to call this fully conscious activity?  Rather, when we speak, write,
or communicate in any way with our language, it is a subconscious activity
that springs from the "language faculty".  We are able to manipulate it
and use it, but not access it.  For instance, can you tell me exactly how
your mind puts together a sentence, processes an implicature, or anything

All of these issues are why Chomsky maintains a hard distinction between
knowledge of language and language use (or what is more often called
"competence" versus "perfomance").   

Even for those of you who are die-hard anti-Chomskyans, I think you'd find
the somewhat dated (but still valuable) book "Challenging Chomsky: The
Generative Garden Game" by Rudolf Botha (Blackwell, 1990 -- out of print,
though) very amusing and more than a little informative.

All the best,

--- "Harold R. Holmyard III" <hholmyard at ont.com> wrote:

> Dear Robert,
> Thanks for writing, and it was good to have your input. It is nice of 
> you to provide further information. I would like to comment on one 
> statement you made.
> >On to more: Harold's appeal to the "thought process" is really 
> >blurring the line
> >between pschology and linguistics.  What we think we do when we form
> sentences
> >may in fact have nothing to do with what the mind actually does.  We 
> >have to be
> >much more careful here, and simple anecdotal evidence really proves
> nothing in
> >this regard.
> If this sentence formation were an unconscious process, I might have 
> more sympathy with such a statement. But we are speaking here of 
> written language. I don't know about you, but I think when I write. 
> I choose my words carefully and put my sentences together 
> deliberately. To say what we think we do when we form sentences may 
> have nothing to do with what the mind actually does seems hard to 
> swallow. I construct sentences a certain way to accomplish definite 
> ends, and if the sentence does not seem to be succeeding, I add and 
> subtract words, change them, and move them around. I may rewrite 
> whole paragraphs to make the point clearer or communicate more 
> simply. To say I should ignore the thought process strikes me as 
> removing the communicator from the communication. If we retain the 
> communicator, the problems he faces in conveying a message are quite 
> similar to the ones I face. And these same issues can reappear in 
> other languages.
> 				Yours,
> 				Harold Holmyard

Dr. Robert D. Holmstedt
Hebrew Studies Program
Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list