Tuesday, 31 January 2017

ECP violation is meaningless



'...take the sentence:
‘He wondered whether the mechanics fixed the cars.’

And just consider two questions that you could ask about that.

The two questions are:
‘How many cars did he wonder whether the mechanics fixed?’
Answer: ‘Three cars’

‘How many mechanics did he wonder whether fixed the cars?’
Answer: ‘Three mechanics’

But the trouble is, you can’t say that for some reason. You can’t ask: ‘How many mechanics did he wonder whether fixed the cars?’

In technical terms it’s called an ECP violation'


In practice, what we would actually say is- 'How many car fixing mechanics did he wonder about?' Or just 'How many mechanics?'

Chomsky thinks there's a thought- one that is perfectly fine- behind 'How many mechanics did he wonder whether fixed the cars?- which poses a type of problem which warrants serious study by an independent branch of knowledge. If this were true, Language would truly be something autonomous and as much 'in the world'- to paraphrase Godel's remark on the sort of Logic he hungered for- as Zoology.
Is Chomsky right?
He says- 'The thought is fine — fine thought — but you have to express it in some kind of paraphrase. There’s something about the language design which poses a barrier to communication. You just can’t express a simple thought like that, you need a circumlocution.'

Where is the paraphrase or circumlocution in 'How many car-fixing mechanics did he wonder about?'
What aspect of 'How many mechanics did he wonder whether fixed the cars?' does it not capture?
It seems, this ECP violation of Chomsky's isn't really anything serious at all. It isn't like a CPT violation in Physics. Thus Language isn't really an independent object of serious study- unless it is meaningless- at least by any means suggested by Chomsky.


No comments:

Post a Comment