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Noam Chomsky
Posted: 18 April 2007 02:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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You’re welcome, ElizaD.

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Posted: 18 April 2007 03:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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From what I have seen so far you do not seem like a pleasant person to talk to.

Wow.  Did you even read my last comment?

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Posted: 18 April 2007 07:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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So, let’s see where we are, class.

Chomsky says that children are born with the innate ability to speak correctly? Is that what he is saying? Is it that simple? I’m still lost and scared.

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Posted: 18 April 2007 10:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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My daughter at the age of three used to interpret “behave” as “be hayve”, as if the second part of the word were an adjective. I would say: “I want you to behave!” She would respond: “I alread am hayve.” There was certainly no arguing against the logic and it pretty much put an end to the discussion. There were also other idiosynchracies, some of which seemed to put her English into much earlier, more Shakespearean or Germanic forms. Germanic languages being a priori more ur-logical and therefore more universal than any others. ;-) We also told her a bee was called a bee, so to her mind an airplane, a fly, a bird, or a fish were also “bees” because they were objects that moved or floated through elements like air or water. I’d be a mite careful about basing linguistic theories on children’s acquisition of language, that is unless you talk to my daughter first.

Larry Sommers’ account is certainly one of the more cogent discussions I have seen, though mine is a short list. And I’m more than willing to believe in a universal grammar. Music and math are based on universal truths and constants (or so we believe) so why not language? But when we learn math we think we are discovering something entirely outside ourselves, yet with language there is an apparent desire to place the source within, as if it is somehow arbitrated entirely by the human race.

As far as Chomsky’s brilliance, I’d be a little wary of pinning the genius label on the ability to synthesize a belief structure out of a great deal of preceding scholarly work and a particular thing which many or most people have an instinctive desire for. People have been searching for “universals” since the beginning of human history, and it’s up to each of us to determine if the person proferring a universal is a charlatan or a visionary, or both.

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Posted: 19 April 2007 02:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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Chomsky says that children are born with the innate ability to speak correctly? Is that what he is saying? Is it that simple? I’m still lost and scared.

Eyehawk, I’ve become something of an expert on Chomsky’s linguistic theories now, so I can safely speak with complete authority.

I haven’t read any of Chomsky, nor many articles about him, but I think what he said is
(a) that children are born with whatever cognitive ability it takes to learn a language.  He may have been more specific - I’m not sure - in which case the Piraha tribe’s method of communication/language might put his theories up the spout.  He also apparently said that
(b) the syntax of grammar which we use to analyse language (ie parts of speech etc) should be replaced by “transformations”, which is another way of analysing language.  Read Larry Sommers’ post to find out more about this.

1) Am I right? 
2) Are there any other theories that I’ve left out?
3) Did Chomsky link these two theories in any way?

I’m glad both aldi and eyehawk have come out of the closet, so to speak.  There must be loads of other people like us who want just a simple, understandable answer, but who are too scared of being dubbed lazy (yes, that’s me), ignorant (yup to that, too), or stupid (whatever) to ask.

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Posted: 19 April 2007 05:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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In my earlier post, the only thing I meant to characterize as “brilliant” was Chomsky’s assertion that there is a deeper level of syntactic structure available for analysis than is even hinted at by traditional theories of grammar, and that it might be accessed by devising a rigorous set of rules to “transform” the universal grammar — which, I take it, is an abstraction, like Plato’s “ideal forms” — into the actual utterances of speech.  I think this notion took the world of linguistics by storm in 1957 and that in itself (academics being what they are) guaranteed Chomsky’s revered status ever after.
But if you look at the practical results of Chomsky’s theory, I’m not sure that they really exist.  At the best, it seems to me, you can compare the complex word-classes and transformation rules required by transformational grammar to the epicycles and deferents required by late Ptolemaic astronomy.  Maybe they can be made to work, in a tedious fashion — but they may not reflect the real world at all, and they are sure to be abandoned when something better comes along.
As to politics, suffice it to say I am not one of the good professor’s admirers.

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Posted: 19 April 2007 05:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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Chomsky says that children are born with the innate ability to speak correctly?

Simplistically, yes. But he does not say that children are born with the innate ability to speak English correctly (or French or Swahili or Arabic or whatever dialect you choose). The knowledge of universal grammar, however, allows children to apply the transformations and learn a particular dialect or dialects very, very quickly. (I also suppose “born with” is flexible. Given what we know now of infant brain development, it would not be inconsistent with Chomsky to postulate that universal grammar is developed sometime in the first few post-natal months by a biologically determined process of brain development.)

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Posted: 19 April 2007 09:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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OK, I feel better about this now. I makes more sense now.

Now, his political ramblings can still scramble a fellas gray matter. Though I agree with much of what he says, he loses me at times.

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Posted: 19 April 2007 10:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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All this reminds me very much of this:

Taking two new- born children belonging to persons of the common sort he gave them to a shepherd to bring up at the place where his flocks were, with a manner of bringing up such as I shall say, charging him namely that no man should utter any word in their presence, ... wishing to hear what word the children would let break forth first, after they had ceased from wailings without sense. And accordingly so it came to pass; for after a space of two years had gone by, during which the shepherd went on acting so, at length, when he opened the door and entered, both the children fell before him in entreaty and uttered the word bekos, stretching forth their hands…

It’s from Herodotos. The full text can be found here.

Seems like Chomsky wasn’t the first to give this matter some thought.

[ Edited: 19 April 2007 10:38 PM by Dutchtoo ]
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Posted: 19 April 2007 05:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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That so it came to pass I heard from the priests of that Hephaistos who dwells at Memphis; but the Hellenes relate, besides many other idle tales, that Psammetichos cut out the tongues of certain women, and then caused the children to live with these women.

Clearly standards are slipping. One simply doesn’t find this level of rigorous methodology among linguists today.

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Posted: 19 April 2007 06:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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I don’t know from Herodotus or Chomsky.  But I was close to believing that there might be something like “universal grammar” until today.  Our US Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, defended his non-role in the firing of several district attorneys for what might have been politically motivated reasons by saying, “This was a process ongoing that I did not have transparency into.”

Clearly Chomsky was wrong.

from Slate.com

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Posted: 20 April 2007 02:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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AlbertoGonzus - 19 April 2007 06:37 PM

“This was a process ongoing that I did not have transparency into.”

I love it.  Can I use it?

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Posted: 20 April 2007 07:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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Let’s see Chomsky try to transform that!

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Posted: 20 April 2007 03:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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Alberto has to be a comedian, right?

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Posted: 20 April 2007 06:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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Interest in this discussion may be waning, but here are a couple of paragraphs from Chomsky’s 1968 Language and Mind lecture series. In an unguarded moment he appears to have stated a few things which are comprehensible to the ordinary human, and which therefore can be argued against.

In the course of these lectures I have mentioned some of the classical ideas regarding language structure and contemporary efforts to deepen and extend them. It seems clear that we must regard linguistic competence – knowledge of a language – as an abstract system underlying behaviour, a system constituted by rules that interact to determine the form and intrinsic meaning of a potentially infinite number of sentences. Such a system – a generative grammar – provides an explication of the Humboldtian idea of “form of language,” which in an obscure but suggestive remark in his great posthumous work, Über die Verschiedenheit des Menschlichen Sprachbaues, Humboldt defines as “that constant and unvarying system of processes underlying the mental act of raising articulated structurally organised signals to an expression of thought.” Such a grammar defines a language in the Humboldtian sense, namely as “a recursively generated system, where the laws of generation are fixed and invariant, but the scope and the specific manner in which they are applied remain entirely unspecified.”

In each such grammar there are particular, idiosyncratic elements, selection of which determines one specific human language; and there are general universal elements, conditions on the form and organisation of any human language, that form the subject matter for the study of “universal grammar.” Among the principles of universal grammar are those I discussed in the preceding lecture – for example, the principles that distinguish deep and surface structure and that constrain the class of transformational operations that relate them. Notice, incidentally, that the existence of definite principles of universal grammar makes possible the rise of the new field of mathematical linguistics, a field that submits to abstract study the class of generative systems meeting the conditions set forth in universal grammar. This inquiry aims to elaborate the formal properties of any possible human language. The field is in its infancy; it is only in the last decade that the possibility of such an enterprise has been envisioned. It has some promising initial results, and it suggests one possible direction for future research that might prove to be of great importance. Thus, mathematical linguistics seems for the moment to be in a uniquely favourable position, among mathematical approaches in the social and psychological sciences, to develop not simply as a theory of data, but as the study of highly abstract principles and structures that determine the character of human mental processes. In this case, the mental processes in question are those involved in the organisation of one specific domain of human knowledge, namely knowledge of language.

Note that Chomsky identifies one of his inspirations (Humboldt), but somewhat characteristically cites only an obscure footnote or ‘aside’, not the central argument of his predecessor. Ever notice how luminaries will offer only the most obscure of the obscure as their influences? The pinnacle of this in my experience was Norman Mailer—or was it Gore Vidal?—who when asked about his own favorite author to read called attention to some unknown and untranslated Italian author. Anyway, the second point of interest, to me, is that Chomsky is making predictions about the future of his study! Incredible! From the vantage point of 1968 we could expect some cabal of scientists, mathemeticians, psychologists, and linguists (computer types being only vaguely on the horizon at that point) to produce an overarching, if not underlying, yet highly useful and utilitarian, concept of the understanding of the knowledge of language, which is to say how we talk and think. Well, considering that this has not yet come to pass I can see why Chomsky switched to politics. It has a much more comfortable lubrication factor.

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