[Spellyans] Chomskyan linguistics

Michael Everson everson at evertype.com
Wed Jul 30 12:14:03 BST 2014

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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