The mean lean grammar machine meets the human mind: An empirival investigation of the mental status of linguistic rules
Linguists have traditionally set great store by the principle of economy. General rules and principles are almost universally preferred to more specific ones; and any rule or principle that can be subsumed under a more general statement is deemed redundant, and hence unnecessary. Most linguists also assume, either implicitly or explicitly, that language learners extract the most general rules compatible with the data they are exposed to, and, consequently, that speakers of the same dialect extract the same rules. This general methodological stance, as well as the specific assumptions that follow from it, have been challenged by usage-based approaches to language. Proponents of such approaches (Langacker 1988, 2000; Bybee 2005; Barlow and Kemmer 2000) maintain that in mental grammars, low-level rules and specific exemplars co-exist with more general rules; and to the extent that linguistics aims to be a cognitive science, adequate linguistic description must reflect this. In this presentation, I will review the psycholinguistic evidence bearing on this issue. I will argue that low-level schemas are easier to extract, and thus play a particularly important role in language acquisition. However, adult speakers continue to rely on local generalizations even when these can be subsumed under more general rules; and while many adults also have more general representations,these are by no means universal.