Chomsky

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AHMED QADOURY ABED
CHOMSKY : A SINGLE OR MULTIMINDS IN ONE

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Chomsky

  1. 1. 1CHOMSKY: A SINGLE MIND OR MANY MINDS IN ONE?AHMED QADOURY ABEDFinally, we get it! But is Chomsky a revolution or evolution? „Chomskyan Revolution‟ is a termused by both his supporters and opponents. But, such use is based on the definition and argumentsfor or against such use. To start with „for‟ like Joseph, Newmeyer, Harris and many others, what issimply presented by Chomsky is a revolution for many reasons: (1)the definition of language ( arule-governed system) and then linguistics; (2) the shift from descriptive adequacy towardsexplanatory and then evaluative adequacy;(3)introduction a new paradigm really represented bymore algebraic formal syntax; (4) redefining Saussurian dichotomy of langue and parole intocompetence and performance, and later focus on regarding language as parole , not langue ,asSaussure believed; (5) Chomsky made a resurrection to innateness(nature and nurture gotogether) ;(6) He has returned the mind to its position of preeminence in the study ofhumankind ;(7)The idea that a substantial part of our knowledge is genetically determined cameforward;(8)„„He has shown that there is really only one human language: that the immensecomplexity of the innumerable languages we hear around us must be variations on a single theme.He has revolutionized linguistics, and in so doing has set a cat among the philosophical pigeons.”(Smith, 2004: 16); (9)Since 1957, syntax and cognition have become the pace-maker in theoreticallinguistics rather than phonology; and (10) Human languages exhibit remarkable similarities orprinciples, and these patterns are called universals.The other advantage acknowledged by generativists like Newmeyer (1982), Smith & Wilson(1979), Joseph (1995) is the issue of terminology. Majority of his terms are used for the first timelike „deep structure‟, ‟LAD‟, ‟Government-Binding‟,‟ Barriers‟, and „Minimalism‟. Even the usedones are redefined like “creativity‟, which is used to mean „We can produce and understand aninfinite range of novel grammatical sentences‟, ‟Children do not imitate a fixed repertoire ofsentences, and „creativity is not explicable if language is learnt just from the environment‟. This isalso a tendency followed by Hjelmslev, Lamb, and Halliday.But the question here: Are all these features originated by Chomsky with no relevantinfluence from earlier linguists and psychologists? Or let‟s present the question in another facet:Does Chomskyan paradigm (some of its concepts are mentioned above) carry points of coincidencewith Hjelmslev, Pike, Firth, Lamb, Halliday, just to mention a few? The simple answer is NO!Chomsky usually states that his theories and ideas have seeds from many ,starting from those ofWundt‟s in the 18thcentury, Humdolt‟s in the 19thcentury, till today. His statement in the NinthInternational Congress at MIT is full of names, if Harris and Jakobson are also included as his ownpriests. Newmeyer, Joseph , and Koerner and others don‟t deny this. Newmeyer in CH 2 of hisGenerative Linguistics has proved that the origins were earlier than Chomsky, but his own ones areregarded the “the first modern attempt to promote a generative grammar of a languageencompassing all levels of description”(1996:16). Also, even not mentioned in his works, Saussurewith his dichotomies is there, despite the different realization of some of these. In a similar way,Chomsky (1959, 1965, 1975) proposed a top down approach on which the linguist is free tohypothesize systems of formal rules containing category symbols, subject only to appropriateempirical confirmation. Like post-Bloomfieldians, algebraic, formal syntax is used, and anadvanced version is followed and latter developed. Like other theories, Chomsky is also behindempiricist principle which was really developed during the 1980s in his PP Program. Similarly,non-linear representations are used. The relational procedure is existent in Chomskyan paradigm,
  2. 2. 2especially in his treatment of deep structure and surface structure in the 1950s and 1960s, and laterminimized in the 1990s to one strata. His earlier versions focused on the intrinsic and extrinsicrelationships between deep and surface structures. His difference was in the insertion oftransformations. These points prove that is a man of multi-minds, if these minds are metaphoricallythe other participants in the linguistic discipline.Thus, it is an instance of evolution. This is totally correct, but no one can deny that forms ofevolution can eventually lead to a revolution. The term „Chomskyan Revolution‟ and its used bymany „for‟ and „against‟ is a clear evidence. Koerner‟s treatment was/is with such term ,but ofrelative validity. His 1983, 2004, and 2007 implied such reference in accepting it as a serialrevolution. And this is the portrait of humanities, unlike solid sciences. Koerner;s impliedacceptance of this relative validity of a Chomskyan Revolution was clear in his treatment of theactual coincidence of this paradigm with Kuhn‟s , Murray‟s , and Joseph‟s conditions for revolutionstandards. The only un-applicable one was Popper‟s falsificationalism. Some of the philosophicalquestions defending and justifying Chomskyan paradigm are further examined by Katz‟s “TheUnfinished Chomskyan Revolution” (1996), especially that of abstractness. The initial step towardsa linguistic revolution was Syntactic Structures, and this is justified by two reasons. The first one isits conception of a grammar as a theory of a language, subject to the same constraints onconstruction and evaluation as any theory in the natural sciences, following Kuhn‟ paradigm for themorphology of scientific revolution. Prior to 1957, it was widely considered, not just in linguistics,but throughout the humanities and social sciences that a formal, yet non-empiricist, theory of ahuman attribute was impossible. Chomsky showed that such a theory was possible. The secondreason: it placed syntactic relations at the centre of langue. By focusing on syntax, Chomsky wasable to lay the groundwork for an explanation of the most distinctive aspect of human language: itscreativity. The revolutionary importance of the centrality of syntax cannot be overstated. Chomskyhimself in his 2000s interviews admitted that the earlier version of his revolution were based onothers‟ contributions, but later moved to formulate it in his own revolutionary framework of GB,and then Minimalism. Koerner‟s description of the events in the second half of the last century as apropaganda is acceptable, even biased instances are evidently available. But is it justifiable ?Chomsky, Harris, Joseph, Koerner, MIT, Department of Defense , and many others have ,of course,different reasons for “YES” or “NO” answers. Robert F. Barsky‟s Zellig Harris: From AmericanLinguistics to Socialist Zionism (2011) reveals some further secrets.Finally, to present a personal perspective, the answer is “YES”; it is a revolution for anumber of justifications, not reasons. If it is a propaganda or an agenda, it is the slogan of allscience and politics institution behind the World War II, as reflected in the introduction of Kuhn‟(1962), where dominance and control are among these factors. May be some specific applicationswere military, but the linguistic domain moved to be very unique , leading in turn to actual shifts inlinguistics and its intra-disciplines like philosophy, psychology, anthropology, sociology, logic, etc.on the one hand ,and its inter-disciplines like computational linguistics, on the other. These twoopened new departments and increased new projects, like Communicative Approach to languagelearning and teaching. In addition to all these and many others not mentioned here, and may bediscovered later in Wikliks, Chomsky is precious coin with faces: a unique mentality and a sum ofmulti-working mentalities. The last words to write here are his own description of his career: “Ittakes a big ego to withstand the fact that you‟re saying something different from everyone else.”Chomsky (qt in Smith, 2004).

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