Summary of Clancey, Chap. 9

Conceptual Coordination

Transformational Processes, Grammars, and Self-Organizing Strings

Hal Schiffman

  1. This chapter tries to relate conceptual coordination to Piaget's and Chomsky's theories of learning, as well as to Langacker's theory of Cognitive Grammar. Problem is one of relating two types of development processes :

    Use Kauffman's theory of self-organizing processes to relate the two?

  2. Piaget's transformational Processes:

    are relevant to conceptual coordination. Reflective abstraction in particular can be shown to have parallels to conceptualization, as shown in Table 9.1, pg. 224.

    The second process, abstraction, fits (C's) claim that every categorization is a generalization. Piaget's main point:

    The ability to comprehend, focus, make sense in logical ways (...) develops in experience.

    [I omit further discussion of Piaget because I don't have a way to summarize it.]

  3. Chomsky's Mental Physiology: provides another, competing? opposing? account of learning.

    Note: these green (deleted from print version) blocks will be my way of injecting my own opinions about things I don't agree with, or have a critique of.

    1. First problem is that I think that Clancey bases his understanding of Chomsky on older versions of Chomsky's theory, going back to 1965, 1981, etc. when now many things have changed.

    2. Second problem I have is that Chomsky's view of what goes on in language is always focused on what he calls the ideal speaker-hearer who never makes a mistake, never has a doubt about his/her intuitions about language, always knows what is grammatical and what is not, never is concerned about the social appropriateness of utterances, never thinks about grammaticality beyond the level of the sentence, and so on. Such persons, of course, do not exist. This perception of language is known as ``autonomous" theory, i.e. that language structure is independent of personal and social variables. But among `autonomous' theorists there is a tendency to lapse into treating oneself as the ideal speaker-hearer, i.e. the intuitions of the `speaker who doesn't exist' can be found by consulting one's own intuitions. One doesn't go out and get data, one sits in one's office in the linguistics department. and consults one's own brain.

      Result: Chomsky's perception of language is not based on empirical observation of language behavior, or even empirical observation of neural activity, but on his own (admittedly brilliant) ideas and intuitions about how language must be structured.

    3. Because Clancey only consults the earlier writings of Chomsky, there is an overemphasis in Clancey on the notion that grammar is transformational when in fact the earlier emphasis on this notion has been largely abandoned. What happened was that everybody and his brother went out and began proposing (a) elaborate "deep structures" for the simplest utterances, and (b) elaborate transformations to derive these deep structures and convert them into (c) surface structures. People, Chomsky included, began to have doubts about these elaborate abstract structures, wondering (e.g) how young children could even begin to learn them. The elaboration of vast complicated deep structures and transformations also meant that the goal of proposing some kind of underlying universal grammar became more elusive: languages were just too different.

    4. Result: elaborate deep structures and transformations were abandoned, and the goal was to find a way to get to the complexity and great difference that we find on the `surface' of natural languages, but derive it somehow from some finite, small number of universal features.

      Some people (former transformational/generativists, such as Langacker) abandoned this line of theorizing altogether, but among the true believers (loyal to Chomsky), the emphasis became one of proposing generative grammars, that generated all the grammatical sentences of the language, but also generated some that were ungrammatical. These needed to be filtered out, so what had to be proposed them was a filtration of interpretive system, which were different for different languages, and would get rid of the weird sentences that the grammar would generate, but were not appropriate. (This was also thought to take care of the social and other 'appropriateness' problems.)

    5. Cognitively, this interpretive component bothers many people (incl. me) because it means that we are constantly judging the grammaticality or appropriateness of a vast number of ungrammatical sentences generated by our internal grammars. Many people feel there must be some other way to handle this.

    Clancey's view of what Chomsky is saying is given in the first quote on pg. 226. (About the only part of this that most people would still accept is the idea that nouns, verbs, etc. are `likely to prove universal deep-syntactic categories of human languages'). Another claim is that grammars etc. consist of or are based on meaning-independent processes, i.e. that they operate at a deep level without meaning, and meaning is assigned later by the interpretive component. [This is also problematical for many.]

    Clearly Chomsky's theory won early adherents among the techie community because (as Clancey says) "it was determined that transformational grammars could be formulated as augmented transition networks (ATNs)." The generativity part of this is still accepted by many, but not the emphasis on transformational grammar. (See fn. 2, pg. 226).

    Not clear to me whether Clancey is waffling about Chomsky on pg. 227, when he says that Chomsky's view is controversial (true) and maybe misunderstood (also possibly true, but maybe not always). In the opposing view (e.g. Langacker 1986, theory of cognitive grammar ) patterns are representations of experienced expressions:

    Grammar is not a distinct level of linguistic representation, but reduces instead to the structuring and symbolization of conceptual content...

    Lexicon, morphology, and syntax form a continuum of symbolic units, divided only arbitrarily into separate "components"---it is ultimately as pointless to analyze grammatical units without reference to their semantic value as it is to write a dictionary which omits the meanings of its lexical units. (pp. 1-2)

    Clancey lists the three options as some kind of continuum or spectrum:

    Langacker's claim: linguistic structure is not autonomous or meaning-general, and does not involve an inherited language organ but rather is conceptually constructed as a generalization of actual utterances. [ i.e., it is based on experience: children develop language from the input they get. ]

    "Conceptualization [...] encompasses novel conception as well as fixed concepts; sensory, kinesthetic, and emotive experience; recognition of immediate context (social, physical, linguistic); etc. Pg. 3.


  4. Berwick's appeal to connectionism.

    [I am not competent to discuss this.]

  5. Kauffman's Autocatalytic symbol strings.

    [I am not competent to discuss this, either.]

Postscript: For Chapter 10, in the discussion of `center-embedded' sentences, with the limit of three, I have been collecting examples of 'real' sentences of this sort:

The example sentences Clancey cites [``The book [that the man [who hired me] wrote] deals with politics"] often give the impression that even 3 embeddings are hard to decode; it seems to me that the more fully specified they are, the easier they are to decipher. They're also more common with psychological verbs (`doubt, hope, fear, believe') or expressions derived from psych verbs (`doubts, hopes, accusations, reports').
Last modified 4/9/01.