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From:  Joe Martin
Date:  Sun Jul 2, 2000  4:09 am
Subject:  Re: native speakers

One thing people need to understand is what we mean by "rules" of
grammar. These are the same kind of rules that are found in physics, not
the kind of rules that are found in chess.
Descriptive rules, the physics kind, the good kind, ;-) try to
describe-what actually happens. For example, rain falls to the earth,
so we have a rule that things fall if nothing is holding them up. The
raindrops don't care, they fall whether or not we write `rules' to
their behavior.
We had a good `rule' until we discovered that sometimes things go into
orbit; then we had to change the rule to describe better....uhhh....well,
"things fall if gravitational YK(g)/Z exceeds PLZ/Q bla bla...." it can
get really complex. The thing is, there's no Great Head Raindrop who tells
them what to do. Nor is there any Great Head Linguist who tells people
what to say.
Although people often volunteer to take the position of Great Head
Linguist, or Great Head Signer, modern linguistics believes that
the only reliable authority is the mental grammar in the brains (?) of
native users of a language. How they use the language is correct, by
definition, just like the correct way for a raindrop to act is to fall.
If Irina is a native signer, and she signs something, then that is how
it is signed. We linguists just scrabble around behind her trying to
describe her stuff with our `rules,' and when she changes her signing,
we have to change our rules. She's the boss.

Joe Martin, Plain Old Ordinary Student
Top Left Corner USA

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