Thursday, January 23, 2003

NEW AVENUES IN CHOMSKY-HATING: This Matt Welch post that has a little excerpt of Chomsky HATE! in it that reminds me that the fresh new wave of Chomsky hatin' will take him to task for his limits as a linguist--his chosen discipline:

In the Soviet Union, linguistics, archaeology and ethnography suffered for decades under the state-supported fashion of Marrism and the nonsensical Japhetic Theory conceived by the Georgian scholar Nikolai Yakovlevich Marr, who founded the Japhetic Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1921, named after Japhet, the eldest son of Noah in the well-known Judaeo-Christian myth of the ark. The teachings of Marr incurred the favour of Joseph Stalin and were propagated as official doctrine under Stalin's reign. Likewise, after the Second World War, a proliferation of tyrannical [Chomskyan and Neochomskyan - AMR] formalist schools of thought in North America and Europe philosophising about the nature of language largely on the basis of English syntax - though essentially just a scholarly fashion not supported by coercive measures in any way as horrific as the murders and incarcerations of the Stalinist repressions - was to dominate and debilitate linguistics as a discipline in the West just as Marrism had done in the Soviet Union. This trend has in the past several decades resulted in the diversion of much public and private funding into bogus science under the guise of 'theoretical linguistics', and away from the empirical scientific study of human language and the documentation and study of individual languages. The Australian linguist Robert Dixon observed:

The formalists do have names for their 'theories'. I won't attempt a full list, but some of the theories of the past forty years are: Transformational Grammar, Standard Theory [what an arrogant name - AMR], Extended Standard Theory, Revised Extended Standard Theory, Government and Binding Theory, Principles and Parameters Theory (all of these associated with Chomsky) ... [Dixon lists fifteen more theories - AMR] ... The non-linguist reader will surely concur with my cynical comment that if a discipline can spawn, reject, and replace so many 'theories' (in most cases without bothering to actually write a grammar of a language in terms of the 'theory'), then it could be said to be off balance. And [formalists] often say that the people writing grammars of languages (something that, with rare exceptions, they do not do themselves) are working without a theory. As if one could possibly undertake any linguistic analysis without a theoretical basis. (1997: 131-132)

Even in the brief time that has elapsed [four years - AMR] since Dixon wrote this passage, new linguistic formalisms such as optimality, connectionism, minimalism and unification grammar have sprouted up and mushroomed. Chomsky's acolytes and their intellectual successors largely engage themselves in exercises which appeal more to a literary than to a scientific bent of mind ... This can hardly be called progress, and the real contribution of generative and neo-generative [= Chomskyan and Neochomskyan] linguistics to our understanding of language is meagre at best.

Thank you, Amritas, actual linguist. (AMR means Amritas, donchaknow.)

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