Monday, 25 May 2015

Thinking About The Road Ahead

Generative Syntax—Following the Yellow Brick Road to Athens

In the aftermath of Eurovision, and as a way of coping with the usual (though short-lived) withdrawal symptoms, I find myself fantasizing up a comparison between the upcoming Athens event on the future of Generative Syntax, and the Eurovision Song Contest.

The comparison was prompted by musing over the different positions and stances taken by the participants in their  written statements in advance of the event.  I am struck by the differences in tone and emphasis--- optimism vs. grumpiness when it comes to our own present achievements and research goals; bravado vs. caution and practicality when it comes to the outside world.    These threads run through the different contributions in different proportions, and with respect to different topics.    I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with things in all of these written statements, and swithering between optimism and despondency in equal measure.  I wonder what kind of conversations there will be, and what kind of common ground there will actually be when we all meet face to face.  For this is not obvious to me at all.   All of these smart, experienced, passionate linguists!  At the end of the event, what kind of  song will we choose when all the conversations are over, and the time has come to vote?
1.Upbeat catchy dance tune (We agree to list our achievements and reaffirm the rightness of what we are doing, and come up with practical suggestions for explaining how great we are to the outside world)
2.Soul searching mournful  ballad of unrequited love (Where did it all go wrong? Why are we so misunderstood? How can we do good science if we can’t even agree what good science is among us?)
3. Power ballad of the `I am Woman/Bearded-woman/Alternative –Hear-me-Roar’  variety (A bit like 1, but less conciliatory)
4. Or will the song that emerges be a watered down compromise statement that nobody really loves but  was a kind of lowest common denominator of things that no one violently disagrees with. (Think Ireland in  1990s Eurovision).

Facetiousness aside, I for one hope for a plurality of voices and a lot of Listening.  I have always liked working within a field such as Generative Linguistics where there is not yet a rigid framework or doctrinaire theory that one has to follow. I  hope Athens will make the conversation more open, and ideologies less rigid. In Eurovision, all the countries eventually went over to singing in English, pushing out all the other languages.   I think Generative Syntax has to go in the other direction, and old fixed genres and domains need to cross over, mix and creatively relook at old problems with new eyes, instead of hunkering down in their old corners.

Let’s see how it goes.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting musings! Two things spring to mind.

    Frank Richter und Wolfgang Sternefeld (2012) "Review of Stefan Müller: Grammatiktheorie'' Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft 31-2, 263-292.

    This paper is in German, but interesting reading. They basically sound the death knell on syntactic theory. When science is done in "bad taste", it is time to stop. I was not dragged down by their pessimism, since they didn't really consider the LFG perspective.

    Other thing. When I go teach in far flung places where they have never heard of colorless green ideas, I tend to use these two books by Paul Kroeger.

    Kroeger, Paul R. 2005. Analyzing grammar: An introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Kroeger, Paul R. 2004. Analyzing syntax: A lexical-functional approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    I think they are a model example of transporting syntactic insights that the field as a whole has had, without overloading students with theory-particular terminology/ideals.