syntax as meaning

(Avery Andrews (Fri, 1 May 1992 10:45:34 PDT) ) --

The hypothesis I'm proposing is that it does not occur in native English
*because* it gets no meaning by the normal operations of the perceptual
system described by the grammar. This could be false, but it isn't specious.

The phrase "by the normal operations of the perceptual system described
by the grammar" is a nice hedge, but what does it mean?

I take it you mean to avoid problems due to other parallel operations of
the perceptual system imputing meaning to word sequences despite their
ungrammaticality. I'll let you have that (for now). But you still have
problems with the "Oh, I know what she means" processes by which we
correct what we hear, most of the time without noticing that we do so.
(BTW, Rick, this is the sort of place to look for control, not in the
enforcement of rules learned in school.) A person hearing your unlikely
transposition of "that" would reconstruct some grammatical
structure-cum-error for it (if she didn't just say "huh?" and ask you to
say more). One possibility:

A. John gave the student article that
B. The student article that said what? (Assuming "that <sentence>")

Transposition of determiners to follow the noun in English does not
occur in people's speech and is not among the interpretations one would
make of your example, not because it is meaningless, but because it
violates conventions of English word order. The equivalent word order
in a different language with different conventions is not meaningless.
And if I and some friends agree to experiment with an alternative
convention, I think someone overhearing us talk would find the following
meaningful, if initially a bit disorienting:

  We're experimenting with putting definite article the and other
  determiners after noun the. Can you understand way this of

Are you dispensing with the distinction between ungrammatical but
meaningful utterances like these and the (purportedly) meaningless but
grammatical "colorless green ideas sleep furiously."

I want us to be in good agreement as to just what you are proposing to
do here. I would caution you, by the way, that it is very difficult to
rule out *any* utterance as meaningless, as is shown by the experience
of interpretations making sense of the colorless green example and by
many linguists' experience presenting starred "can't say" examples to
their students (only to have them come up with a context in which it
makes sense). The reason this is so hard to do is because people are
attending to control of meanings (association with controlled nonverbal
perceptions) more strongly (with higher gain) than they are attending
to control of word dependencies and word shapes (including reductions).
The latter is made to serve the former. That doesn't mean the latter
can be reduced to the former. Bill was proposing that when we started
our conversations together here, and I think I have persuaded him that
there really is control of language apart from control of nonverbal
perceptions in experience, memory, and imagination which may be
associated with utterances.

  Be well,