Edited by Nancy Stern, Ricardo Otheguy, Wallis Reid and Jaseleen Sackler
[Studies in Functional and Structural Linguistics 77] 2019
► pp. 73–104
What is the ultimate object of explanation in linguistics? What are the pre-analytical observations, the observations against which all theoretical constructs are tested? Columbia School (CS) proposes a radical answer: the observations in linguistics, and hence its ultimate object of explanation, are the acoustic asymmetries of the speech continuum. This fact is responsible for the paradoxical status of meaning and communication in CS theory. CS theory takes the communicative function of language as key to the nature of linguistic structure, yet it does not offer a theory of communication. It analyzes linguistic structure as consisting of inventories of meaning-bearing signs; yet it does not offer a theory of meaning which maps utterances to interpretations. This paper articulates the reasons that CS linguistics declines to treat the interpretations of utterances as linguistic objects in need of explanation. It also provides a detailed description of how a CS grammatical analysis accounts for features of the acoustic asymmetries of a spoken English text, and provides an explanation for them.