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Approaches to Language: Data, Theory, and Explanation

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The study of language has changed substantially in the last decades. In particular, the development of new technologies has allowed the emergence of new experimental techniques which complement more traditional approaches to data in linguistics (like informal reports of native speakers’ judgments, surveys, ...

The study of language has changed substantially in the last decades. In particular, the development of new technologies has allowed the emergence of new experimental techniques which complement more traditional approaches to data in linguistics (like informal reports of native speakers’ judgments, surveys, corpus studies, or fieldwork). This move is an enriching feature of contemporary linguistics, allowing for a better understanding of a phenomenon as complex as natural language, where all sorts of factors (internal and external to the individual) interact (Chomsky 2005).

This has generated some sort of divergence not only in research approaches, but also in the phenomena studied, with an increasing specialization between subfields and accounts. At the same time, it has also led to subfield isolation and methodological a priori, with some researchers even claiming that theoretical linguistics has little to offer to cognitive science (see for instance Edelman & Christiansen 2003). We believe that this view of linguistics (and cognitive science as a whole) is misguided, and that the complementarity of different approaches to such a multidimensional phenomenon as language should be highlighted for convergence and further development of its scientific study (see also Jackendoff 1988, 2007; Phillips & Lasnik 2003; den Dikken, Bernstein, Tortora & Zanuttini 2007; Sprouse, Schütze & Almeida 2013; Phillips 2013).

In this context, we welcome contributions to this Research Topic that intends to serve as a showroom for the latest developments in language science methods. In so doing, papers submitted to this Research Topic should go beyond developing an innovative contribution by addressing a research problem: they should also serve as a sample of the kind of methods and experiments (in a broad sense) run in different approaches to language, in the hope that this discussion prompts a reflection on the relation between data, theory, and explanation.

Among the possible issues that submissions to this Research Topic could cover we find the following particularly relevant: the validity of quantitative approaches for the study of I-language (e.g. corpus analyses or formal experimental approaches), the complementarity of psycholinguistic and theoretical approaches to determine the nature of syntactic phenomena (reconstruction, agreement, binding, etc.), the merits and limits of laboratory techniques for the study of prosody and intonation, and whether introspective acceptability judgements are a reliable source of data for the study of language.


Keywords: linguistics, data, evidence, theory, explanation, experiments


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