Monday, October 29, 2007

A Unified Theory....Maybe or Maybe Not

Here's a comment from the Phillips and Wagers paper about the mental effects of islands: the two authors mentioned a disparity in the locus of disparity detection in island violations. In head-first languages, or, as much of the head-parameter we're as a discipline still willing to entertain, the confusion point was hypothesized to be the verb; in verb-final languages such as Japanese, I believe, the salient point was detected before the verb at the gap. The authors then questioned whether or not there was a test for detecting a uniform result or whether there was a formal theory under which both disparate results could be nestled comfortably. One possibility is to fall back to a Whorfian hypothesis and claim that differing languages have an impact on how speakers thereof encounter their world, hence the divergent results in English and head-final languages and the resultant conundrum of which formal theory to back or eschew. Either we simply haven't found the right test (which is possible) or, and stay with me here, there is no single theory of language. I'm willing to entertain at least that a Saussurean division of concepts into vocabulary affects the range of thought in 'mentalese', but perhaps this effect isn't mighty enough to affect language processing. I'm not sure, as I'm not a psycholinguist. But, just as there's no match for everyone on, a unified theory of grammar may be just as elusive given such results.