Recursive Misrepresentations: a Reply to Levinson (2013)
Julie Legate, David Pesetsky, Charles Yang
November 2013
 

Citing cross-linguistic grammatical data and specific corpus studies, Stephen C. Levinson (Language 89.1, 149-162; henceforth L13) argues against the idea that "recursion, and especially recursive center-embedding, might be the core domain-specific property of language". On the basis of "facts from interactive language use", L13 offers an alternative conjecture: that language inherits its recursive properties "from the action domain". We argue that L13's grammatical, statistical and formal claims are at best unwarranted, and in many instances demonstrably false. L13's reasoning is similarly flawed -- in particular, the presumption that center-embedding can serve as a proxy for embedding in general (and that clausal embedding can stand proxy for recursion in general). If our concerns are justified, no support remains for L13's general conclusions. Furthermore, though these conclusions are pitched as relevant to specific published claims about the role of syntactic recursion, L13 misrepresents these claims. As a result, even an empirically supported, better-reasoned version of L13 would not bear on the questions it claims to address.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/001822
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Language 90.2 (a reply to this article)
keywords: levinson, recursion, embedding, center-embedding, subordination, warlpiri, walbiri, piraha, wambaya, kayardild, yogyakarta, amele, parataxis, statistics, discourse, syntax
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