Relax, lean back, and be a linguist
Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft
In this text I wish to raise some questions about the quantity and quality of data required in grammar research. In previous work I have argued, often emphatically, in favour of using more and better data, so that grammatical hypotheses are more descriptively adequate, and theory building less speculative. My arguments have been just a small part of a wider intellectual trend in this direction, since others have had similar thoughts, and research in the field is increasingly using more
... using more evidence-based argumentation. I therefore think that we can assume that the case for greater empirical input into grammatical generalizations and theory building is established. My aim here is to question how far this trend need go. The title of this piece is intended to sum up my suggestion that, while it was necessary and indeed urgent for researchers in grammar to consider data and respect data more, it is neither necessary nor perhaps desirable for them to spend too much time worrying about the finer points of data collection and analysis. Some researchers will take a particular interest in methodology and will innovate and set new standards, but others will be more conservative and rely to a greater extent on traditional methods, while still accepting the basic premise that a theory is an account of data. My basic point is that we need to regard both paths as valid, if we wish the field of research in grammar to remain a single unit, and not drift apart into separate discourses, to the disadvantage of both parts. One of the insights of the SFB 441 Linguistic Data Structures was the extent to which the data types and approaches represented had significant features in common. In particular, it became clear that linguistic data is always complex and requires filtering, interpretation, and location within a wider model to yield its full evidential value. The developing different wings of grammar research therefore need each other; neither all-data nor all-theory can have as much value as a judicious combination of the two.