I'm not done KISSing yet

🕑 3 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 July 25, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 methodology, semantics

I just got back from MOL (Mathematics of Language) in Toronto, and much to my own surprise I actually got to talk some more about KISS theories there. As you might recall, my last post tried to made a case for more simple accounts that try to handle only one phenomenon but do so exceedingly well without the burden of machinery that is needed for other phenomena. My post only listed two examples for syntax as I was under the impression that this is a rare approach in linguistics, so I didn’t dig much deeper for examples. But at MOL I saw Yoad Winter give a beautiful KISS account of presupposition projection (here’s the paper version). That’s when it hit me: in semantics, KISS is pretty much the norm!


Continue reading

KISSing syntax

🕑 7 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 July 12, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 methodology, syntax

Here’s a question I first heard from Hans-Martin Gärtner many years ago. I don’t remember the exact date, but I believe it was in 2009 or 2010. We both happened to be in Berlin, chowing down on some uniquely awful sandwiches. Culinary cruelties notwithstanding the conversation was very enjoyable, and we quickly got to talk about linguistics as a science, at which point Hans-Martin offered the following observation (not verbatim):

It’s strange how linguistic theories completely lack modularity. In other sciences, each phenomenon gets its own theory, and the challenge lies in unifying them.

Back then I didn’t share his sentiment. After all, phonology, morphology, and syntax each have their own theory, and eventually we might try to unify them (an issue that’s very dear to me). But the remark stuck with me, and the more I’ve thought about it in the last few years the more I have to side with Hans-Martin.


Continue reading

Two dimensions of talking past one another

🕑 8 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 May 20, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 theory, methodology, Minimalism

This post will be a bit of a mess since it’s mostly me trying to systematize some issues I’ve been grappling with for a while now. I have discussed my research with people who come from very different backgrounds: theoretical linguists, computer scientists, molecular biologists, physicists, and so on. Many of these discussions have involved a fair amount of talking past one another. To some extent that’s unavoidable without a large shared common ground. But ironically, most of the talking past one another actually didn’t occur with, say, biologists, but with theoretical linguists, in particular Minimalists. The rest of this post presents my personal explanation for what might be going on there. I believe there are two factors at play. Both concern the horribly fuzzy notion of a linguistic theory.


Continue reading