On the form-function dichotomy in linguistic theory
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This paper focuses on an important divide in theoretical linguistics between two broad perspectives on the structural properties of human languages, generative and functionalist. In the former, linguistic structure is explained in terms of discrete categories and highly abstract principles, which may be language-independent or language-specific and purely formal or functional in nature. In the latter, explanation for why languages have the structure that they do is found ‘outside’ language, in the general principles of human cognition and the communicative functions of language. The aim of this paper is to highlight the need for abstractness, explicitness, simplicity and theoretical economy in linguistic description and explanation. The question is not whether principles of grammar are formal or functional. The question is whether the principles that are postulated to explain linguistic structure express true generalizations.
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