[Spellyans] Chomskyan linguistics

ewan wilson butlerdunnit at ntlworld.com
Wed Jul 30 17:31:26 IST 2014

Apologies for perhaps inadvertantly sparking a  linguistics spat!
However I would have to agree with Michal that 'T-G centric' linguistics was 
indeed the bane of the subject back in the late 70s/early 80s.
To show the disproportionate time alloted to his 'school' , let me say that 
in four years of a Linguistic course, we studied Chomsky's theories right 
through those four years. T-G was inescapable. In contrast we skimmed over 
the existence of the other major schools, mostly under the rubric of the 
History of Linguistics and not specifically looking at the schools per se.
We did a second year module in Systemic Grammar. At Honours level a whole, 
obligatory paper was devoted to T-G. No other School got such attention. 
Lamb's Stratifactional theory got a very minor look in as part of half of an 
optional paper, as was Case Grammar, if memory serves me right. To me this 
seemed a very imbalanced way to present the subject up to Hons level. 
Diachronic linguistics got scant attention. However Practical Phonetics and 
Phonology did get more of a look in our course than what it did elsewhere, I 
I agree with Michael's criticism that the 'intuitive' emphasis of Universals 
that Chomsky so stressed did lead to neglect in vital field work. It is a 
criticism others have voiced.
I also am unconvinced by aspects of the 'deep to surface' structures that 
Chomsky posits.He's had to tweak or 'refine' it so often to the point that 
major planks of the original have been undermined. Fair enough - that's what 
science is all about, but it is a pity this one school was/is still(?) seen 
as so essential for qualification as a 'professional' philologist.
In the long run, Lamb's ideas seem to have had more mileage. Geoffrey 
Sampson's book that Michael mentions is a fascinating, independent minded 
insight into the whole field and not too abstruse or technical for us more 
average minded mortals!

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Michael Everson" <everson at evertype.com>
To: "Standard Cornish discussion list" <spellyans at kernowek.net>
Sent: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 12:14 PM
Subject: [Spellyans] Chomskyan linguistics

On 30 Jul 2014, at 05:44, Daniel Prohaska <daniel at ryan-prohaska.com> wrote:

> One may differ with, indeed even disprove Chomsky's theories on universal 
> grammar and other areas, but to say he is an "idiot" is - well,... just 
> wrong, - on so many levels.

I beg to differ.

> He didn't damage 'linguistics' at all - he sparked many an interesting 
> controversy.

You weren’t trying do historical linguistics in the 1980s. At the very time 
when the recording and documentation of endangered languages and their 
relations should have been the focus of every linguist on the planet, 
black-box “universals” were the whole focus of the entire field.

> He is also a keen and critical political mind and his outspokenness in 
> this area is also important in the pluralistic choir of voices of the 
> world.

He can stick to politics as far as I am concerned. I have no respect at all 
for his theories of syntax. Essentially, Transformational Generative grammar 
assumes that English SVO is the basic prototype for all language and applies 
fixes to it in order to generate “surface” speech.

This is a preposterous notion. And at a certain time in this history of 
modern linguistics one couldn’t get any work done unless one kowtowed to 
this intellectual fad.

It damaged linguistics and offered very little value. Possibly some of the 
Google Translate heuristics benefitted from some study of syntax. Possibly.

See Geoffrey Sampson’s “Schools of Linguistics”.

> I strongly protest you calling him an "idiot" on an open forum whose 
> moderator you are and who on occasion has had to warn members for using 
> language which was in your opinion too harsh or too personal.d


Michael Everson * http://www.evertype.com/

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