Instituto de Formación e Investigación Lingüística

Theoretical grounds

  • Language has a fundamentally social function. Processes of human interaction along with domain-general cognitive processes shape the structure and knowledge of language. Recent research in the cognitive sciences has demonstrated that patterns of use strongly affect how language is acquired, is used, and changes. These processes are not independent of one another but are facets of the same CAS (Complex Adaptive System) […] The CAS approach reveals commonalities in many areas of language research, including first and second language adquisition, historical linguistics, psycholinguistics, language evolution, and computational modeling (Becker, Blythe, Bybee, Christiansen & Croft 2009, Language is a Complex Adaptive System: Position Paper).
  • We do not take the structuralist position that each language represents a tidy system in which units are defined by the oppositions they enter into and the object of study is the internal system the units are supposed to create. Rather, we consider it more profitable to view languages as composed of substance- both semantic substance and phonetic substance. Structure or system, the tradicional focus of linguistic enquiry, is the product of, rather than the creator of, substance. (Bybee & Perkins & Pagliuca 1994, The evolution of grammar)

  • A legacy of the structural tradition in linguistics is the widespread acceptance of the premise that language structure is independent of language use. This premise is codified in a variety of theoretical distinctions, such as langue and parole (Saussure 1916) and competence and performance (Chomsky 1965). A further premise of this legacy is that the study of structure is a higher calling than the study of usage and is a potentially more promising avenue for uncovering the basic cognitive mechanism that make human language possible. However, by the 1980s, a number of linguists had begun to think of linguistic structure (grammar) as a response to discourse needs, and to consider seriously the hypothesis that grammar comes about through the repeated adaptation of forms to live discourse. (Bybee & Hopper 2001, Frequency and the emergence of linguistic structure)
  • The antecedence of functionalism in linguistics should not be sought primarily in the work of linguists, but rather in the work of antropologists, psycologists, and biologists. And long before them, in the work of philosophers.  […] however, the best point of departure for functionalism is to be found in biology, the mother-discipline that has been profoundly functionalist for over two thousand years. Functionalism in biology traces back to Aristotle, who more or less singlehandedly dislodged the two structuralist schools that had dominated Greek biological thought up to his time. Both schools sought to understand live organisms componentially, the way they did inorganic matter. Thus Empedocles proposed to explain organisms by their component elements. While Democritus opted for understanding organisms through their component parts, or structure. In his De Partibus Animalium, Aristotle first argues against Empedocles' elemental approach, pointing out the relevance of histological and anatomical structure. Aristotle next notes the inadequacy of Democritan structuralism. […] Ever since Aristotle, structuralism - the idea that structure is autonomous and arbitrary and thus requires no explanation or worse, somehow explains itself - has been a dead issue in biology, a discipline where common-sense functionalism is taken for granted like mother's milk. […]In the early 20th Century, structuralism re-surfaced in the nascent social sciences. To the infant disciplines of psychology, anthropology and linguistics, two towering exponents of logical positivist philosophy of science, Bertrand Russell and Rudolph Carnap sold the deceptive analogy of physics.  (Givón 2001, Syntax, Vol I)
  • Una de las aportaciones más importantes de la Teoría de la Metáfora Conceptual es el descubrimiento de que gran parte de lo que decimos tiene una base metafórica. Esto no quiere decir que sea creativo, sino que el significado de esas construcciones (sustantivos, verbos, preposiciones, expresiones idiomáticas, etc.) está basado en sentidos originales más concretos, físicos, y en muchos casos sensoriales. La evidencia lingüística sugiere que la metáfora juega un papel fundamental en el cambio semántico y apunta a una naturaleza corporeizada del lenguaje. La Teoría de la Metáfora Conceptual nos descubre también que el lenguaje refleja asociaciones estables en nuestra representación de ciertos conceptos o dominios de conocimiento, y que estas asociaciones influyen en nuestra manera de pensar y percibir el mundo. La psicología experimental ha empezado ya a dar prueba de ello. La metáfora puede explotarse activamente con fines pedagógicos (por ejemplo, en la enseñanza de idiomas). (Soriano 2012, Lingüística Cognitiva, en Ibarretxe y Valenzuela).
  • The mind is inherently embodied. Thought is mostly unconcious. Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical. These are the major findings of cognitive science. More than two millennia of a priori philosophical speculation about these aspects of reason are over. Because of these discoveries, philosophy can never be the same again. When taken together and considered in detail, these three findings from the science of mind are inconsistent with central parts of Western philosophy. (Lakoff & Johnson 1999, Philosophy in the flesh)
  • The most important point that can be made from the discussion of mechanisms of semantic change is that context is all‑important. Everything that happens to the meaning of a gram happens because of the contexts in which it is used. It is the use of language in context that shapes the meaning of grammatical morphemes. Thus a true understanding of the mechanisms of change that create grammatical meaning must proceed from analyses of the use of grams as these changes are taking place. The high frequency of grams is also due to the use of grams in environments where their contribution is actually redundant. That is, grams come to be used not just where the meanings they supply are strictly necessary, but also any time that meaning is compatible with the general context and the speaker’s intentions. (Bybee, Perkings y Pagliuca 1994,The evolution of grammar)
  • L’affaiblissement du sens et l’affaiblissement de la forme des mots accessoires vont de pair; quand l’un et l’autre sont assez avancés, le mot accessoire peut finir par ne plus être qu’un élément privé de sens propre, joint à un mot principal pour en marquer le rôle grammatical. Le changement d’un mot en élément grammatical est accompli. (Meillet 1912, L’evolution des formes grammaticales)
  • The turn of the present century has seen the emergence of several possibilities for a meeting of minds, as some generative linguists begin to try to account for cognition‑based structures (e.g., Jackendoff 1983, 2002), for productivity (e.g., Jackendoff 2002), for the dynamic, emergent properties of the speaker’s knowledge of the system (e.g., Culicover and Nowak 2003), and for the variation that undeniably occurs in language (see work on Optimality Theory, e.g., Boersma and Hayes 2001; Lee 2001; Bresnan, Dingare, and Manning 2002). Moreover, some “functional” linguists have sought to formalize their work at least in part (see, e.g., Bybee and Hopper 2001 for frequency studies; Croft 2011 for syntax). (Brinton & Traugott 2005, Lexicalization and language change)
  • There are essentially three reasons for conducting quantitative research: (1) quantifying a particular question forces one to consider a wide range of data, which in turn makes the analyses more reliable; (2) data from quantitative studies are a crucial part of testing empirical hypotheses; (3) quantitative studies are in a better position to reflect facts about how people actually use language than are analyses that do not utilize quantitative data. (Eddington 2002, Linguistics, Vol. 40)
  • I treat the mind as a biological question: language and thought are adaptations that extend abilities we share with other animals. For well over a century, this has been the standard scientific approach to other mental capacities such as vision and motor control. But language and thought, even now, are usually studied as abstract formal systems that just happen to be implemented in our brains. […] Understanding language and thought requires combining findings from biology, computer science, linguistics, and psychology. A theory that seems perfectly adequate from one perspective may contradict what is known in another field. Problems that seem intractable in one discipline might be quite approachable from a different direction. Taking all the constraints seriously is the only way to get it right. (Feldman 2006, From Molecule to Metaphor, a Neural Theory of Language).