Chomsky -- Put up or blah blah

Scott Martens smartens at
Tue Mar 28 09:29:08 PST 2000

Chomsky played a part in killing behaviourism, but a lot of other people were involved. To his credit, Chomsky has never claimed that he slayed Skinner's beast. His review of "Verbal Behaviour" was seminal in linguistics, but it played little role elsewhere.

As for his linguistics... that's a bit longer. Generative grammar is counterintuitive and not especially useful. It's a neat trick that works in English, but becomes less and less productive the further you get away from English. Chomsky's followers have difficulty claiming much empirical basis for GG and haven't made any real progress in understanding the functioning of human language on this basis.

A scientific theory should have some empirical means of falsification, but Chomsky encourages linguists to treat introspection as a form of validation for their hypotheses. That's pretty bad. Nobody else wants much to do with Cartesianism. As far as I can tell it thrives only in Anglo-American linguistics.

Among other problems, Chomsky rigidly refuses to consider semantics in analysing grammar, ignoring important phenomena like lexical functions and treating grammar as simply an arbitrary way of ordering words without any reference to what those words mean. Obviously syntactic phenomena reflect meaning. His "furious green ideas" can be meaningful in an appropriate context - they do not reflect the independence of syntax from meaning.

This could go on for a while. Ronald Langacker's "Foundations of Cognitive Grammar", or Dick Hudson's books or some of the literature coming out of the dependency syntax people makes more complete arguments.

Regardless of how I feel about Chomsky's linguistics, reading his books on linguistics is like being dragged through a swimming pool full of razor blades. How someone as clearly literate and erudite can write such dry, uninspiring tomes on his own subject is something I've never understood. Worse, other linguists seem to be picking up Chomsky's style.

Scott Martens

---- Début du message original ---- De:Curtiss Leung <bofftagstumper at> Envoyé:Mon, 27 Mar 2000 19:08:27 -0800 (PST) A:lbo-talk at Sujet:Re: Chomsky -- Put up or blah blah

Somebody wrote:

> I find his (Chomsky's) writing about linguistics
> more than amply appalling.

What's so appalling about them? Chomsky killed behaviorism, at least as a model for human language acquisition and function. Until we have a completely brain based account of language, I don't see what's so terrible about it. -- Curtiss, over quota.

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