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date: 21 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This article examines the rhetorical conflict between the so-called ‘formal linguistics’ and ‘functional linguistics,’ arguing that there is no inconsistency in advocating (and practicing) both modes of explanation. A ‘formal’ explanation in linguistics derives properties of language structure from a set of principles formulated in a vocabulary of nonsemantic structural primitives, whereas a ‘functional’ explanation derives properties of language structure from human attributes that are not specific to language. This article begins by discussing the properties of formal explanation and functional explanation, along with their respective strengths and weaknesses. It then proposes criteria by which an explanation might be considered ‘formal’ or ‘functional.’ It argues that both explanations have their place in a full account of the properties of linguistic structure and have their role to play in linguistic theory.

Keywords: formal linguistics, functional linguistics, formal explanation, linguistics, language structure, functional explanation, language, linguistic structure, linguistic theory

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