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date: 28 June 2022

The Reception of Generativism in Romance Linguisticslocked

The Reception of Generativism in Romance Linguisticslocked

  • Diego PescariniDiego PescariniCentre National de la Recherche Scientifique

Summary

The reception of generativism in Romance linguistics has been uneven. In the field of morphophonology, scholars were engaging in the discussion about the tenets of generative phonology as early as the 1960s. Structuralist and generative phonologists spoke a mutually understandable metalanguage and worked on agreed-upon empirical facts. Generative syntacticians, by contrast, developed a far more intricate and technical metalanguage by exploring little-known phenomena or by turning apparently trivial facts into theoretically appealing issues. As a result, the reception of generativism in Romance syntax has been almost pathological: Generative and “traditional” Romance scholars have kept working on similar phenomena but from irreconcilable perspectives. Findings and ideas have often been discussed in separate venues and largely incommunicable terms. The reasons for this mutual indifference (rather than overt antipathy) are quite understandable. On the one hand, scholars with a historical/philological background, working on change and variation, had little or no interest in a model of synchronic competence detached from the cultural heritage of linguistic communities. Moreover, the highly technical style of generativist studies—mostly in English—hindered the diffusion of generative ideas beyond the circle of practitioners. On the other hand, generative grammarians have always had the tendency to exploit Romance data as a test bed for their theories, sometimes ignoring or downplaying the contribution of previous descriptive studies. From a generative standpoint, Romance linguistics has always been instrumental in improving theoretical linguistics, not the other way around. The relationship between the communities of Romance linguists and generativists has evolved over time. In the 1960s and early 1970s, the debate was vivid, as witnessed by conference proceedings and articles focusing on the most theoretical aspects of transformational grammar and generative (morpho)phonology, in particular with respect to the analysis of linguistic change and reconstruction. With some remarkable exceptions, however, generative ideas and methods were not readily implemented, and the history of the reception of generativism in Romance linguistics since the early 1980s can more easily be reconstructed from lacunae than documents. In this scenario, collaborative projects featuring generative and nongenerative linguists stand out, because they not only are rare but also yield exceptional results such as the Grande Grammatica Italiana di Consultazione or the Gramática Descriptiva de la Lengua Española, which are recognized reference works for both communities.

Subjects

  • History of Linguistics

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