9780195166712 / 019516671X

Skeptical Linguistic Essays


Publisher:Oxford University Press, USA



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About the book:

Paul Postal is a distinguished Research Professor at New York University whose specialties are syntactic theory, English syntax, and the foundations of linguistics. This volume consists of an introduction and two groups of essays, each with a connecting theme. The first, positive group, contains five previously unpublished studies of English syntax. These include a long study of so-called 'locative inversion', two investigations related to raising to non-subject status, an argument for the existence of a hitherto ignored nominal grammatical category and a study of vulgar negative polarity items. Each investigation of specific English details is argued to have significant theoretical consequences. The link between them is that each chapter reveals how much of even a well-studied language remains mysterious. Part One ends with a new theoretical essay that argues in a novel fashion for the controversial conclusion that it is literally impossible for a natural language to have a generative grammar due to a variety of theoretically neglected phenomena including so-called direct speech and metalinguistic uses. The second, negative group of papers, contains seven essays each of which seeks to show that aspects of contemporary linguistic activity are in part contaminated by elements of what is called 'junk linguistics'. Postal uses the term to denote work which advances proposals, puts forward claims and asserts deep results which, he argues, can only be accepted by ignoring serious standards of inquiry and scholarship. The fact that much of this work is nonetheless currently considered not only serious but prestigious reveals, Postal says, the problem to exist at the core of the field, not its periphery. These chapters include long, detailed studies of the strong crossover phenomenon and English passive structures as well as documentation of "junk linguistic" aspects in National Science Foundation refereeing, work on the foundations of linguistics, and even in widespread t

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