Corpus and Grammar: What It Isn"t


Staff member
Concentric: Studies in Linguistics
30.1 (June 2004): 1-18

Corpus and Grammar: What It Isn't
Chris C-C Shei
Centre for Applied Language Studies
University of Wales Swansea

Grammar means different things to different people. For generative grammarians, grammar is innate, autonomous and universal. For functionalists, grammar is just one of the many devices which humans employ to communicate their ideas in a social setting. Psycholinguistic studies, neurolinguistic methodologies and the science of biology, may provide the ultimate answer to whether there is an innate core of grammar which can indeed be clearly separated from the influence of performance factors, as generative grammarians claim. Meanwhile, corpus investigation is still a more convincing way to describe and possibly explain how language is actually used by human beings. Many dictionaries have been compiled from the exploration of corpora, many language structures studied and rules of use described. In this paper, a selective and evaluative review of research on generative grammar is offered, mainly from the psycholinguistic point of view. The main claim is that an autonomous syntactic module in the human mind as proposed by generative grammarians is unsustainable, and it is misleading to separate grammar from context in language studies. Although the innate hypothesis can be supported, grammar is constantly shaped by culture and interpersonal interactions. In the end, the place of grammar may not be so pivotal to human language as held by generative grammarians (i.e. the lexicon may be more important in language processing than rules governing sentence formation). A more viable means of approaching the truth of language may be through the investigation of corpora.
Key words: generative grammar, psycholinguistics, aphasia, neuroimaging,
corpus linguistics, extended lexical unit
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