Noam Chomsky and his friends

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For those who still think that Noam Chomsky is a "great thinker," welcome to reality. Chomsky was a militant anarchist metaphorical bomb—thrower long before he (accidentally) became a famous linguist. Chomsky was "discovered" long before he completed his long and unreadable dissertation at MIT.

Chomsky's contribution to his field of expertise, such as it was, was to try to convert human language to mathematics; but that turned out to be a Platonic fantasy that doesn't work. It just makes linguists feel better about themselves.

Since the Sixties Chomsky has published theory after theory. After five decades of "generative grammar," "transformational grammar," "government and binding grammar," and today "minimalist grammar," Chomsky's ambitious project to turn human language into elegant mathematics has become tinier and tinier. When Chomsky leaves the scene, it will all go "pop!" and disappear, leaving not a wrack behind.

Many scholars of language believe that Chomsky has blown the whole field of linguistics to smithereens for the last several decades. When he became famous in the Sixties, linguists still knew how to speak languages — there are tens of thousands of them, and because they are disappearing so fast it is humanly important to preserve them in all their richness.

But when Chomskians took over, it wasn't necessary for linguists to learn languages any more. All you needed for a PhD was to take some tiny feature that you hoped (without proof) demonstrated some new grammatical rule in an obscure language, make it your own, and claim that it showed something important about the human mind. Nobody bothered to check what were often dubious "rules"in Athahuascan or Easy as pie.

Real language studies have therefore reverted to The Bible Society, a group that translates the Hebrew—Christian Bible into a vast range of less—popular languages. In that process, the Bible Society also compiles dictionaries and grammars, and does much good work that linguists now ignore.

Chomsky's students have now taken over much of the academic world of linguistics. For example, George Lakoff of UC Berkeley — now famous for telling Democrats how to sell their message to a bored public — is a Chomsky student who has spent his life rebelling against the Great Man. Lakoff and many others believe there are no Chomskian grammars in human heads. In fact, nearly all of Chomsky's students have revolted against him, in good part because he is so totalitarian. Anarchists revolt against anarchists because they thrive on rebellion.

So the terrorist Sheikh and the bloody—minded professor met and shook hands in Lebanon. This is not a new thing. The history of the 20th century is the history of bloody minded professors hugging killers. But it is very symbolic. The cynical French have an old saying: "Les extremes se touchent," meaning "the extremes touch hands." Chomsky and Sheik Nasrallah are holding hands and skipping around the kindergarten.

As MEMRI notes in this report,

"It should be noted that Sheikh Nasrallah frequently calls for the destruction of the U.S."

James Lewis   5 16 06

For those who still think that Noam Chomsky is a "great thinker," welcome to reality. Chomsky was a militant anarchist metaphorical bomb—thrower long before he (accidentally) became a famous linguist. Chomsky was "discovered" long before he completed his long and unreadable dissertation at MIT.

Chomsky's contribution to his field of expertise, such as it was, was to try to convert human language to mathematics; but that turned out to be a Platonic fantasy that doesn't work. It just makes linguists feel better about themselves.

Since the Sixties Chomsky has published theory after theory. After five decades of "generative grammar," "transformational grammar," "government and binding grammar," and today "minimalist grammar," Chomsky's ambitious project to turn human language into elegant mathematics has become tinier and tinier. When Chomsky leaves the scene, it will all go "pop!" and disappear, leaving not a wrack behind.

Many scholars of language believe that Chomsky has blown the whole field of linguistics to smithereens for the last several decades. When he became famous in the Sixties, linguists still knew how to speak languages — there are tens of thousands of them, and because they are disappearing so fast it is humanly important to preserve them in all their richness.

But when Chomskians took over, it wasn't necessary for linguists to learn languages any more. All you needed for a PhD was to take some tiny feature that you hoped (without proof) demonstrated some new grammatical rule in an obscure language, make it your own, and claim that it showed something important about the human mind. Nobody bothered to check what were often dubious "rules"in Athahuascan or Easy as pie.

Real language studies have therefore reverted to The Bible Society, a group that translates the Hebrew—Christian Bible into a vast range of less—popular languages. In that process, the Bible Society also compiles dictionaries and grammars, and does much good work that linguists now ignore.

Chomsky's students have now taken over much of the academic world of linguistics. For example, George Lakoff of UC Berkeley — now famous for telling Democrats how to sell their message to a bored public — is a Chomsky student who has spent his life rebelling against the Great Man. Lakoff and many others believe there are no Chomskian grammars in human heads. In fact, nearly all of Chomsky's students have revolted against him, in good part because he is so totalitarian. Anarchists revolt against anarchists because they thrive on rebellion.

So the terrorist Sheikh and the bloody—minded professor met and shook hands in Lebanon. This is not a new thing. The history of the 20th century is the history of bloody minded professors hugging killers. But it is very symbolic. The cynical French have an old saying: "Les extremes se touchent," meaning "the extremes touch hands." Chomsky and Sheik Nasrallah are holding hands and skipping around the kindergarten.

As MEMRI notes in this report,

"It should be noted that Sheikh Nasrallah frequently calls for the destruction of the U.S."

James Lewis   5 16 06