IQ issue

Margaret mairead at
Mon Feb 8 15:56:11 PST 1999

"William S. Lear" <rael at>) wrote:

>You identified "deep structure" with "content", and "surface
>structure" with "form". All I'm saying is that this is not exactly
>what Chomsky has in mind. The "deep structure" that he is talking
>about is not "content", as you say. The "deep structure" is
>interpreted by a "semantic component" to give meaning, or "content".
>As I understand it, the "deep structure" is still in the domain of
>syntax. Perhaps this is just splitting hairs, though...

Okay, i agree, in part. Looked at in a certain way, we can construe deep structure as being syntactical, but it's not clear to me how fruitful that is. That sounds too much a 'turtles all the way down' sort of thing. Eventually we've got to stop. Deep structure is always represented conversationally by some syntax, but the 'real' deep structure is implicit in cognition itself (your 'semantic component'). Intuitively, i can't find much reason to apply the term 'syntax' to the associative bindings that constitute meaning.

>Also, about the "structure" of the IQ research --- I do think it a bit
>misleading to try to fit Chomsky's points about the IQ research into a
>syntax/semantics or deep/surface dichotomy, without being perfectly
>clear that such analogies are rhetorical flourishes not intended
>literally. He was not addressing any such thing ("syntactically it
>might be fine", as you say), he was merely saying that such research,
>since it has nil scientific interest (but perhaps still having
>interest or "content" in the social domain) can only be of interest to
>racists ("who believe that each individual must be treated not as what
>he or she is but rather as an example of a certain category"
>[*Language and Problems of Knowledge*, p. 164], racial, in this
>example), no matter what the outcome. He is not saying anything like
>"it has surface structure but lacks deep structure" or "it has form
>but not content".

Well, but remember that i was only responding to Angela's comment:
>i think he actually believes you can and should
>distinguish the form from the content, which is why
>he comes out with arguments like the above. which shows that he
>really cannot come to terms with why so much 'irrationality' exists in
>the midst of 'rationality' - he thinks they can be distinguished
>outside of rhetoric.

My point was merely that, since Chomsky has demonstrated that form and content are not joined at the hip, he almost certainly does indeed believe - and rightly so - that we can and ought to distinguish the two. We're always in hot water because so many people accept uncritically that, as it were, 'colorless....' _means_ something when said with sufficient gravity by someone credentialed.


---------------------------------------------------------------- 'And sin ... is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That's what sin is. People as things, that's where it starts.' Granny Weatherwax, in Terry Pratchetts's _Carpe Jugulum_

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