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

Robert Holmstedt rdholmst at uwm.edu
Sat Oct 9 23:23:05 EDT 2004

Sorry all--I'm still forgetting to send it to the list and not just the


> Date: Sat, 9 Oct 2004 20:21:16 -0700 (PDT)
> From: Robert Holmstedt <rdholmst at uwm.edu>
> Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] knowledge of language versus language use (was
> Pronoun  )nky in Judg 6:8)
> To: "Harold R. Holmyard III" <hholmyard at ont.com>
> Dear Harold, 
> Dave is right: we are talking past each other.  Let me give an
> illustration, and in the process hopefully clear one of your questions
> up.
>  "Knowledge of language" has nothing to do with what we self-conciously
> "know" about our own language, or the grammar of any language, for that
> matter.  Rather, "knowledge of language" refers to the actual language
> ability hard-wired, or innate, witthin the human mind.  This refers not
> only to the vast mental lexicon within a speaker's mind, but also to the
> actual processes by which sentences are generated.  It should be
> self-evident (particularly when we ask first-year language students what
> a
> "preposition" is) that speakers need not have any awareness of the
> "grammar" of the language in order to use it.  So, I completely reject
> your assertion that knowledge of ["grammar," which is what you mean]
> leads
> to language use.  Instead, the innate knowledge of "language" (and
> particularly one's own native language) leads to language use.  Language
> users can no more explain the actual mental processes that any human can
> explain why he or she sees yellow on a daisy.  That is to say, we can
> observe the outward data and propose explanations, but they may or may
> not
> have anything to do with the real nature of the mental processes behind
> the actions/events.
> Furthermore, by simple observation, Chomsky argues for a severe
> distinction between the "language" that we all have in our mind, that
> generates "grammatical" sentences and what often comes out of our mouth
> or
> from our pen or keyboard, since the latter is often influenced by
> performance issues (absent-mindedness, lack of sleep, drugs,
> nervousness,
> etc.).  The former is what he calls "competence," the latter
> "performance."  Furthermore, he asserts that performance is for the
> psychologists or psycholinguists to study, but pure linguists only study
> competence.  By the way, here is where the current struggle in
> minimalism
> is: how many pragmatics topics can we treat under competence, and are
> phenomena like implicature always in the realm of performance/use (and
> thus not to be subsumed under linguistics proper)?
> Now, back to extraposition and )$R clauses: yes, I agree that there are
> "reasons" that extraposition occurs.  However, I carefully call these
> "processing" issues in my dissertation to alert the reader that it is
> unlikely that such reasons can really be identified within a linguistics
> (proper) approach.  They are better addressed within the realm of
> psycholinguistics.
> Best,
> Robert
> --- "Harold R. Holmyard III" <hholmyard at ont.com> wrote:
> > Dear Robert,
> > 
> > >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
> > >else?
> > 
> > HH: In your paper you offered examples of phrases being moved around 
> > within a sentence. There are obvious reasons for such moves. People 
> > may move the words consciously to avoid misplaced modifiers. It can 
> > be somewhat automatic, but if you ask, a person could probably 
> > explain why he ordered the words one way rather than some other way. 
> > I know that I go through a conscious thought process at times to 
> > ensure that a modifier is not misplaced, or to try and keep one near 
> > what it modifies.
> > 
> > >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").
> > 
> > HH: You'd have to explain more about what you mean here. There can be 
> > no hard separation of our knowledge of language from our language 
> > use, since the former leads to the latter.
> > 
> > 					Yours,
> > 					Harold Holmyard
> > 
> > 
> > 
> > 
> =====
> Dr. Robert D. Holmstedt
> Hebrew Studies Program
> Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics
> University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
> www.uwm.edu/~rdholmst

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