The fascination of Chomsky’s theory of language is due to the fact that it seems to derive linguistic diversity and complexity from a simple starting point. After Chomsky, a whole generation of linguists was busy with drawing all these elusive inverted trees. Let us stick to a simple example:
Until the twenties of the last century, German was still the most common language of science. By 1933 Germany had won more Nobel Prizes than any other nation, more than England and the United States combined. Then came Hitler and his policy of systematic lies (and crimes). After the Second World War, German was just one language among others, and German science lost much of its former significance.
As human beings we are controlled by emotions and by our intellect – at any time both are invariably involved, even if it sometimes seems as if we are dealing with either purely emotional people or pure intellectuals. A mathematic formula, for example, which to an average person may seem as cold, lifeless and repellent as a prison wall, may produce enchantment and ecstasy in a mathematician who perceives it something extremely beautiful and elegant. In other words, he experiences much the same feelings as a musician who is playing Mozart or Bach. Feelings and the intellect don’t present themselves to us with an either-or, but we may definitely speak of prevailing tendencies.
It is Noam Chomsky’s merit to have significantly influenced (if not created) a prominent area of modern linguistics by asking the right questions. Continue reading The Hallpike Paper – Universal and Generative grammar – a trend-setting idea or a mental straitjacket?
When it comes to Universal and Generative Grammar – undoubtedly a central topic of the modern science of language – the prevailing attitude of linguists – even that of its American representatives – is best described as hagiographic prostration vis-à-vis its prominent author: an attitude stifling to the critical mind and that furthermore stigmatizes all those as heretics who dare to proffer their “ceterum censeo”. Continue reading The Goldsmith Paper (Prof. John Goldsmith, University of Chicago, and Dr. Gero Jenner, author of “Principles of Language” criticize Chomsky’s Universal Grammar)
Steven Pinker’s book „The Language Instinct“ is certainly still one of the best books ever written on the rather elusive subject of language: comprehensive in its wealth of facts, intelligent in its argumentation and fascinating in the refreshing wealth of ideas. Continue reading Psycholinguist Steven Pinker: How a great scientist turned into an enemy of himself – and of truth