David Caplan

What was the broad question that you most wanted to get an answer to during your time in the program?

At the time, I wanted to know how syntactic structure was represented, and how it was constructed in comprehension. Beyond that, I wanted to see if these models could be used in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with neurological disease. I was on my way to Med School, which I told Morris and Noam was the case. They accepted me despite the fact that I was so interested in psycholinguistics and applications. I cannot say how grateful I am for having been accepted and having been in the program. What I learned there has been the basis for my entire professional life.

What is the current status of this question? Has it been answered? Did it turn out to be an ill-conceived question? If it’s a meaningful question as yet unanswered, please tell us what you think the path to an answer might be, or what obstacles make it a hard question.

I still think the question of how syntactic structure is represented is well-formed question, and I still think that an important approach to answering it is logical analysis of expert (i.e., trained linguists’) judgments about features of sentence such as meaning, synonymy, wellformedness, etc. However, these methods have well attested problems, the solutions to which are not apparent (to me). Also, the relation between theories of the structure of syntactic representations and parsing/interpretation has become less clear as models of representations in the MP have become (in a certain sense) more abstract (not that the relation was ever clear). As far as applications to language pathology goes, current models of syntactic representations have essentially stopped influencing models of language deficits in adults withy neurological disorders; even the most linguistically oriented researchers (e.g., Yosef Grodzinsky) utilize models from around 1995 (he may disagree with this characterization of his work). More broadly, although I am not up to date in other areas, I see a similar isolation of modern work on syntactic representations in the MP framework from other potentially related fields such as child language development. If this view is correct, I think it presents a serious challenge to work that sees the study of “competence” as part of biology. Noam’s perspective that the crisis lies in biology is not as appealing to me as it was 15 years ago.