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Chomsky Rebutted
Posted: 09 September 2016 04:38 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Yet again. This time in Scientific American.

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Posted: 11 September 2016 06:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Aaaaaand queue Tom Wolfe.

https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/11/tom-wolfe-v-noah-chomsky-roots-of-language

Does NC bother to rebut the rebuttals these days?

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Posted: 12 September 2016 09:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I was going to post that, OP. I can’t see how the man in the ice-cream suit has the qualifications to write a book on it though he can write good and LH will approve!

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Posted: 12 September 2016 01:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I haven’t read Wolfe’s book, but I’ve seen commentary by biologists who have. Evidently his understanding of biological evolution is sorely lacking, to say the least. I suspect his criticism of Chomsky will be found to be similarly flawed. I’m no fan of Chomsky’s theory, but I’m not sure Wolfe is the right person to take it on.

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Posted: 13 September 2016 07:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I’m not sure Wolfe is the right person to take it on.

Well, of course not, in the sense that he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about, but in the Language Wars my attitude is the practical one manifested in the alliance with the Soviet Union in WWII: anything that helps defeat the greater evil is welcome.  If the popular image of Chomsky moves from “genius linguist” in the direction of “clever quack” (the way I think of, say, Freud) as a result of Wolfe, my hat is off to him.

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Posted: 13 September 2016 09:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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The SA article does make it sound like old Noam has been on the run for a long time and the key sentence could be

Of course, scientists never give up on their favorite theory, even in the face of contradictory evidence, until a reasonable alternative appears.

and sometimes not even then, I would add. Einstein hated the uncertainties of quantum physics.

How come NC still has supporters? Are they all people he taught?

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Posted: 14 September 2016 06:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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You have to remember that he completely dominated linguistics in the ‘60s and ‘70s; one reason I went to Yale for grad work in linguistics in ‘72 was that it was one of the few remaining holdouts, and even there I had to take a course in transformational grammar, much to my disgust (I compared it to the courses in Marxism-Leninism everyone in the USSR had to take, no matter what they were studying).  So yes, the people he taught and the people his students taught still make up a large portion of the professoriat in the field.  Many of them have backed away from the more obviously absurd claims, and other areas like sociolinguistics have acquired more cachet, but there’s still a huge amount of inertia.

Unfortunately, the damage he did to the field (discouraging both historical linguistics and the study of hitherto unrecorded languages) will never be undone.

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Posted: 14 September 2016 08:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I haven’t read Wolfe’s book either but according to the reviews he takes on both Chomsky and Darwin and substitutes his own theory of language. The result is appaarently much as you would expect.

Jerry Coyne, Professor Emeritus in the department of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, encapsulates in the Washington Post:

..... “Painted Word” and “Bauhaus” for instance, were criticized for their ignorance of art. Sadly, his latest book, “The Kingdom of Speech,” suffers from the same mix of sarcasm and ignorance, this time in attacking the claim that human language is partly a product of biological evolution.

Here Wolfe’s victims are two renowned scholars, Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky, whom he considers the most vocal exponents of the “hardwired” school of language. But Wolfe’s argument ultimately backfires, for the book grossly distorts the theory of evolution, the claims of linguistics and the controversies about their connection. Finally, after misleading the reader for nearly 200 pages, Wolfe proposes his own theory of how language began — a theory far less plausible than the ones he mocks.

Not a book that I’ll seek out.

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Posted: 15 September 2016 05:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Nor will I; I enjoyed The Bonfire of the Vanities, but his style palls after a while, and I have little interest in what novelists have to say about nonfictional stuff (other than their own life and work, of course).

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Posted: 15 September 2016 08:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Wolfe isn’t chiefly known for his novels, but rather for “New Journalism,” the subjective and participatory style of reporting of which he was one of the pioneers and the chief theorist. He didn’t start writing novels until after he was well established as a writer. Bonfire of the Vanities (1987) was his first novel. The Kingdom of Speech is his first return to long-form non-fiction since Bonfire.

I haven’t studied his writing in any depth (I’ve only read Bonfire and The Right Stuff), but I gather that all his straight reporting (as opposed to the New Journalism) has been highly criticized for its lack of accuracy and misunderstanding of the subject matter.

Like LH, I quite enjoyed Bonfire (the depiction of Arthur Ruskin’s death in the restaurant is simply brilliant comic prose), but my interest in Wolfe dissipated when I heard him talking about writing I Am Charlotte Simmons and his hanging out at fraternity parties to learn about 21st century hook-up culture. The 70-year-old man opining on “these kids these days” was just too much.

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Posted: 15 September 2016 01:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Yeah, same here.  You’re right, he’s probably mainly known as a journalist of some variety, but I tend to forget that since I never took his journalism very seriously.

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Posted: 23 September 2016 12:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I Am Charlotte Simmons was a pretty good campus satire especially the stuff about jocks and their scholarships and the tutors who look kindly on their academic efforts because of their sporting prowess and the prestige ir brings the uni. I also learnt the word ‘sexile’ from it ie a student who has to mope around elsewhere while their roommate has sex. No one has roommates in British universities. Was its origin a Christian thing in America? You were less likely to sin if observed? That may have been the case in Britain once but not by the time I went. You can drink legally at 18 too!

Why hasn’t anyone been able to sort out the Chomsky matter definitively? It’s no use having complete certainty on either side as we know from conflicting religions. We need proof. In the SA article, which appears fair, Ibbotson ends up positing his own pet theory which he night well spend the rest of his professional life defending.

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Posted: 24 September 2016 01:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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No one has roommates in British universities. Was its origin a Christian thing in America? You were less likely to sin if observed? That may have been the case in Britain once but not by the time I went.

We did when I went to UCL, back in the 1970s. My hall was Max Rayne House, built for the purpose in the 1960s. Half the rooms were singles but only 3rd-years got those; first-years got twin rooms and shared with whoever was allocated to them. Looking at the UCL student accommodation website now, they have been mostly been converted to singles; only about 10% of the rooms are still twin, and it wouldn’t surprise me if those were mostly requested by and allocated to couples.

At the time I assumed that the twin rooms were simply an economy measure, to allow the building to accommodate more students. But it may also have been meant to provide company and comfort for teenagers living away from home for the first time. Even students who had come from boarding schools would have been used to sleeping in dormitories, and being stuck in a little room all on one’s own might have been daunting for many.

Nowadays having to share a bedroom seems quite barbaric to many British people under 50 or so. Even army barracks are being converted to provide single bedrooms for squaddies; and for well over a decade a condition for applying to adopt a child is being able to offer a bedroom of his or her own. An odd world, where sharing a bedroom with a sibling is considered a worse fate than growing up in a care home!

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Posted: 03 October 2016 07:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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This may be the best review of Wolfe’s book yet.

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Posted: 04 October 2016 06:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Eh, it’s fun but way, way, way too long—maybe he’s channeling Wolfe, but I got tired about halfway through and gave up.  Obviously it’s a terrible book and Wolfe is an idiot, but I stand by what I said above: anything that helps dethrone Chomsky from his undeserved pinnacle is fine with me.

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Posted: 04 October 2016 03:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Languagehat, the Malcolm X of linguists.

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