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Academic Lecture by Dr. Ian Roberts from University of Cambridge


On April 29, Dr. Ian Roberts, an academician of Academia Europaea, British Academy and Downing College of Cambridge as well as Dean of Modern and Medieval Linguistics at the University of Cambridge made a lecture named “Formal and Functional Explanations: New Perspectives on an Old Problem’’ in classroom 10 of the Xinpu campus. The lecture was held by Prof. Tan Zhanhai, Dean of Foreign Languages School. Vice Dean Wang Mei as well as many teachers and students attended the lecture.


There are two main schools, formal linguistics and functional linguistics in the modern domain of linguistics. Domestic scholars hold various views on them, while most of the scholars agree that formal linguistics focuses on researching the language forms, whilst functional linguistics concentrates on researching the communicative meaning and the pragmatic function of language.  At the beginning of the speech, Dr. Roberts made a terse and concise exposition of the distinctions and communication trends of formal linguistics and functional linguistics. By analyzing the pleiotropic formal features of Romance language, English and Chinese, Dr. Roberts presented, formal linguistics and functional linguistics are not completely contrary to each other. Combining them in language researching will give the research a stronger explanatory power. Furthermore, in Dr. Roberts's point of view, universal grammar (UG) is a natural existence of human beings, and the language acquisition is a process of the growth of the mind's language instinct prompted by some kind of language experience accumulating. Linguistics will ultimately be a sub-discipline of biology. Linguistics is not a word game anymore, but a science.


The difference among philosophy view, view of language and research method lies in formal linguistics and functional linguistics, which aroused the teachers and students interest. Dr. Roberts patiently answered how to analyze the Chinese recessive negative verbs linguistically. And Dr. Roberts also explained the difference between gene, meme and the parameter in terms of the linguistics.


In tribute Prof. Tan Zhanhai said: “Dr. Roberts’s formal linguistic greatly widens the horizons of the teachers. At the same time, our teachers should do a good job in teaching work and constantly improving their academic ability, do their best in teaching and scientific research as well as making them better.


WriterWang Leihong  PhotographerLi Zhen  Translator: Liu Fujuan



Prof. Tan Zhanhai, Dean of Foreign Languages School making the welcome speech


Dr. Roberts explaining the conflict between formal linguistics and functional linguistics systematically


Dr. Roberts patiently answer questions for teachers and students


On the spot of lecture


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