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Optimality and Functionality:

By Joan Bresnan (stanford and Judith Aissen (ucsc


The classical generative theory of knowledge of language is that a speaker’s mental grammar is a pure combinatorial engine, blind to typology and resistant to grammar-external forces. It arises from domain-specific innate principles of UG, whose parametric variation becomes fixed upon exposure to a given linguistic experience. In this classical epistemology, markedness hierarchies such as the animacy hierarchy cannot play a role in the individual synchronic grammar of a present-day English speaker. These hierarchies are not universal; they are exceptionridden, both across languages and even within the individual languages where their effects sometimes appear. They also have no obvious structural basis in generative representations. Hence, they are regarded as at best vague tendencies reflecting scalar properties of human perception and cognition or socio-cultural categorizations, external to the specific domain of linguistic structure. Their appearance in languages typologically distant from English (e.g. Lummi, Dyirbal, Navajo) shows merely that grammar-external forces may leave their marks upon languages historically. On this view, some of the grammatical structure foun

Year: 2011
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