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

Harold R. Holmyard III hholmyard at ont.com
Sun Oct 10 00:11:32 EDT 2004


Dear Robert,

>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.

HH: I understand this native ability, but as we are schooled we learn 
what we've been doing. What we've been doing, I believe, is copying 
those around us, and learning.

>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)?

HH: This distinction Chomsky makes does not seem that significant to 
me, although of course what we do does not always measure up to what 
we know. Why is it significant? As for implicature, I am assuming 
that you have definition 1 below in mind, rather than definition 2 
(American Heritage Dictionary). Is that right? Perhaps you mean both.

1. The aspect of meaning that a speaker conveys, implies, or suggests 
without directly expressing. Although the utterance "Can you pass the 
salt?" is literally a request for information about one's ability to 
pass salt, the understood implicature is a request for salt. 2. The 
process by which such a meaning is conveyed, implied, or suggested. 
In saying "Some dogs are mammals," the speaker conveys by implicature 
that not all dogs are mammals.

>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.

HH: I am not seeing a sharp distinction here either. Rules of good 
English language use have been formulated and taught (some of the 
principles can apply to Hebrew). The examples of extraposition you 
gave suggested to me instances of modifier placement to avoid 
confusion. I don't see why this is not linguistics proper. Encarta 
says linguistics is the study of language. Webster's says it is: "the 
study of human speech including the units, nature, structure, and 
modification of language." Modifier placement is not necessarily a 
subjective matter but has an objective component.

Also, the issue came up of placing modifying clauses so that the 
sentence is not awkward (the one about Joseph's wife bearing him a 
child). This also seems an aspect of linguistics proper. It has to do 
with how much secondary matter can occur before one loses the train 
of thought in the main clause.

				Yours,
				Harold Holmyard


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