Tuesday, December 31, 2013

You blame Chomsky for WHAT?!?!?!?

OK, this is a pretty weird piece. It starts with this title + comment:
It's time to challenge the notion that there is only one way to speak English. Why do we persist in thinking that standard English is right, when it is spoken by only 15% of the British population? Linguistics-loving Harry Ritchie blames Noam Chomsky.
Wait, what? It's Chomsky's fault that there's linguistic bias? Here's the start of the article:
Did you see that great documentary on linguistics the other night? What about that terrific series on Radio 4 about the Indo-European language family tree? Or that news report on language extinction? It is strange that none of those programmes happened, or has ever happened: it's not as if language is an arcane subject. Just as puzzling is the conspicuous lack of a properly informed book about language – either our own or language in general.
Oh.  So, who gets the blame? After some meandering commentary on Pinker's Language Instinct, among other things, we eventually learn:
I put it down to the strange way that the discipline developed under the aegis of the man who has dominated and defined it since the late 50s, the father of modern linguistics, Chomsky.
And this is no vague blame, just about the popular impact or perception of linguistics:
the wholesale acceptance of Chomsky's rationalist assumptions has meant that the discipline has been hunting for unicorns while neglecting many key areas of language. There is still little research being carried out on, for example, environmental influences on children's language acquisition. 
Most pressingly of all, too little work is being done to record the languages currently facing extinction. By one estimate, 95% of the 7,000 languages now spoken in the world are in danger of dying out. Recording these should have been a priority.
I just googled 'endangered languages' and got over 2,000,000 hits. Google 'generative grammar' and you get over 500,000. That probably roughly reflects the current levels of activity on those two fronts. I would add something on 'environmental influences on children's language acquisition', but I'm not entirely sure what it means.

Ultimately, Chomsky "turned grammar into a technical subject full of jargon and algebra studied on whiteboards by men with beards". Yeah, that's certainly killed physics and cognitive science and whatnot. 

I eventually realized I was reading science fiction. 

Image from here.


Anonymous said...

Wow, this Chomsky dude is getting blamed for more than Obama.

Dianna said...

David Crystal must be fuming.

Mr. Verb said...

I'm pretty sure that a LOT of people of various stripes are fuming, but he would have an especially good reason.