Noam Chomsky/Talk

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"Colorless green ideas sleep furiously." This sentence was invented by Noam Chomsky as an example of a sentence whose grammar is correct but for which the semantics are nonsense.

Afair he invented it to shop sentence, which grammar was correct, but probablity of appearance of every word after its precedensor was almost zero, and it had nothing to do with semantics, but with criticizing some probablity-based theories of language.


Oh boy. I had remembered it as intending to show that the function of a word was dictated by its position in a sentence. For instance, that in English, adjectives come before nouns and adverbs come after verbs.


Wasn't the "word placement dictates function" sentence composed of nonsense words to emphasize the point? The one I learned was "The gostak distims the doshes". Despite the nonsense, an English speaker is able to determine that something called a gostak is currently performing an action called "distimming" to multiple instances of some other thing called a dosh. I'm pretty sure this predates Chomsky too. --PaulDrye


I don't know. My recollection of Chomsky and syntax was that Chomsky took it a step further with some complex formula (supposedly?) showing the universal syntax of language. Yes, universal, as in all languages. Reading it I quickly got over my head, but it seemed that that was no less than his claim. Probably a question for Jan Hidders, who knows about such things. :-) --KQ


You may be thinking of the Chomsky hierarchy. There's a link to it from the Noam Chomsky page. He proved mathematically that every partially decidable language has a type-0 grammar. That's pretty universal.

But, this uses a very mathematical definition of "language" and "grammar". It may not be relevant to human spoken languages. The set of valid sentences that can be spoken by a human with bounded lifespan and talking speed is just a "finite language". This can be generated by a very boring kind of type-3 grammar. That "grammar" is just a simple list of all valid sentences. That doesn't say anything about the structure of the language. -LC


Thanks. --KQ


Chomsky's linguistics ideas have resulted in the insult: "Chomsky is the Freud of linguistics". This insult derives from the notion that Chomsky and Freud both completely ignored the scientific method in creating their "theories".

I guess NPOV has changed in definition to mean "we completely ignore things". Well, that's peachy. GregLindahl

HJH: Well before qualifiying the linguistic theory of Chomsky it should be stated first. Then you might come up with other peoples views. And possibly give some evidence supporting the claim ...

I contributed what I have to contribute. I am not qualified to state the linguistic theory of Chomsky. And what evidence is required that people say that about Chomsky? The parallel is very striking, but it isn't necessary to support it in order to state that people say it. GregLindahl
So they message here is that people will delete my contributions. That makes me so so motivated to contribute to Wikipedia. That's OK, why bother mentioning that Chomsky (and Freud) have legions of detractors, that must not be very important in NPOV articles about Chomsky and Freud. GregLindahl
Now, Greg, don't get too upset. I personally regard Chomsky as a kook and a half on toast. I don't think this article should be uncritical, but I think even detractors have to work to write our criticisms in a way that will be acceptable to supporters. It's an iterative process. --Jimbo Wales

Jimbo, I shouldn't have to jump through hoops to simply note that he has detractors. Since it was made too hard for me to make that simple statement, I've given up. From what I can tell, simply deleting someone's text is against Wikipedia policy, and that's what was done. Go look at the text, which is quoted above. Pretty straightforward: "Detractors say X". That doesn't mean I should have to justify X. You can iterate all you like, I don't like getting screwed. GregLindahl


It is worth noting that almost everything about Noam Chomsky's ideas are controversial, both in linguistics and politics. He has a great many detractors both in academia and the general public; he has a great number of supporters among radicals and anarchists.

I don't think that supporters of his linguistic ideas are mainly 'radicals and anarchists'. --Taw

I took that last to refer to his politics, not his linguistics. I'll reword. --KQ

KQ asked if Chomsky's linguistics ideas are considered radical by some. Yes, they are considered junk science by some, hence, the comment that "Chomsky is the Freud of linguistics". If you look around the web, it takes about 3 minutes to find critics of Chomsky. Too bad the article doesn't mention it anywhere... I attempted to add it, but someone simply removed my words. GregLindahl

Well yes, not to be difficult, Chomsky's linguistics are considered radical by some, since I am one and I consider them radical. What I meant was, regardless of what I personally think, what was the reaction among people qualified to debate the subject matter (I am not one of those people)? I'd love to hear about it; I didn't know he had faced allegations of "junk science" in his methodology; I just remember it started some "Chomskyan revolution" in linguistics. Personally I find his methodology in his political writings both sound and exhaustively documented, but I do not think wikipedia should be a collection of KQ's personal opinions, especially in areas I'm not an expert, so I didn't add that to the article. Why can't we address the controversy around his work the same as all the other controversies: present all the arguments, complete with citations of who says what? Sorry I haven't been plugged in lately; I've been swamped with schoolwork. Sorry also if we've gone over this elsewhere. --KQ

Greg, where does the quote "Chomsky the Freud of linguistics" come from? Google doesn't show it. --AxelBoldt

Dunno, Axel, I've hung out with a lot of people over the years. But you can look at this: http://www.lon.ac.uk/academic/philosophy/Psychology99BA.html, it's an exam in Philosophy which has questions about psychotherapy being a pseudo science, and a rather tough question about whether or not Chomsky's theory of universal grammar has any "grounds" or not. This makes it quite clear that both Freud and Chomsky get questioned. GregLindahl

And seeing your concurrent contribution about the critics... perhaps the problem is that "some" is too general? Who? Where? Why? I work in the academic field; you could as well put my opinion up and cite it as "some say".... You see? I'm not trying to be difficult, just I prefer precision when possible. Beau regards, --KQ

KQ, you are welcome to be as precise as you like. As I said, it took about 3 minutes to find numerous linguistic critics on the web. I'm aware of this through my interest in the history of science; I'd love a good article about this. What I don't like is that people deleted my words about a fairly well known argument. GregLindahl

Some academic detractors consider his "linguistic universals" theory to be pseudoscience, and call him "the Freud of linguistics".

You should provide some examples of (preferably well-known) scientists attacking TG for being pseudo-science (not merely false, that can happen to all good scientific theories) before writing this. Anyway I think that even undeleted statement exaggerates controversy around transformational grammar - It was basis of work of many linguists in 1960s and 1970s (well, I don't know what's going on in linguistics now too well), many of them no one would dare to call pseudoscientists. --Taw

Taw, as I said earlier, I don't believe that I have to do that before writing. This is extremely well known that Chomsky has critics, and it's all over the web. Pretty much ALL of the major criticisms have to do with the scientific proof of Chomsky's theories, and Chomsky's lack of interest in proving anything. If you'd like to write a nice document on this, go ahead. Just don't delete my mention of a well known situation. GregLindahl
Oh, I see that Taw did once again delete my statement. Well, I give up; I guess that Wikipedia's standards are so high that I can't meet them, even if anyone with a clue in the field would be aware of the situation. Better to excise my comment in the Freud article, too. GregLindahl
Of course Chomsky has critiques, but that's true with almost any other known scientist and any other theory. You didn't merely say that he has many critiques. You said that he is being criticized for being pseudoscientific, and that is almost the most serious accusation (probably only accusing of willfully falsifying evidence would be more serious) one could do to a scientist. So it should be much better documented than other claims. Of course if you can find some arguments from those who accuse him, please write them down. It's encyclopedia's work to present them in fair manner. Just please don't add serious baseless accusations, as this isn't fair and doesn't make article any better. --Taw

So I can't even mention that the argument exists? That isn't Wikipedia policy; you should not delete people's words for this reason. GregLindahl

This is Wikipedia policy and it's called NPOV. I'll try to give an example. Let's say that some cotributor added sentence like 'Some people accuse him of having killed his wife' to some article. Well, described person might have done it or not. Maybe some people really accuse him of having done so. But such a serious accusations has no place in an encyclopedia without some evidence, or, at minimum, a link to place where you could find it. And for a scientist killing a wife isn't any more serious than using pseudoscience ;) (sorry for some exaggeration). If you think that you don't have enough time to search for such arguments, you should write on a /Talk page that some people accuse him and that it should be noted in the article. It's likely that some Wikipedian will do the research, and if some people really do accuse the described, it will be written into article. --Taw

OK, Taw, I understand NPOV, and I disagree with you deleting my words. I'd happily bet you $10 that if you asked ANY professional linguist if anyone in the field feels Chomsky is pseudoscientific, they would say "yes". But if you find that so unbelievable, and feel so strongly about anything that YOU don't feel is sufficiently proven, then go ahead and delete my words. Hell, delete anything you want. It's an anarchy, and you're armed and dangerous. I'm not going to cooperate with someone who begins by deleting other people's words. You've appointed yourself King. Enjoy it. GregLindahl

How is his name pronounced? can someone add this? --Alan D (BTW, in "programming languages" in school, We had a textbook that proclaimed that his work on formal grammars were far more useful to computer languages, and of questionable use in natural language--tee hee!)

There's no question about that. Formal grammars are used in theoretical computer science, not in linguistics. --AxelBoldt

well, did chomsky, who was a linguist, create the notation we use, in like 1957 for natural languages or computer languages? --alan d

Primarily for natural languages;
References to check
N. Chomsky, Three models for the description of language, IRE Trans. Info. Theory 2 (3) (1956), 113-124.
N. Chomsky, On certain formal properties of grammars, Information and Control 2 (3) (1959), 137-167. -- HJH

I am not a linguist, and I am hardly qualified to write an article on this topic, but I remember studying transformational grammars in my college linguistic class years ago, and thinking to myself, my God, this seems like such a kludge. He creates this nice formal grammar, and when he finds out that it doesn't actually describe real world languages that humans actually speak, he does a little presto magic (pay no attention to the man behind the curtain), and "transforms" the sentences to fit them into real world syntax. The whole process struck me as the linguistic version of pre-Copernican epicycles, where all sorts of magic had to be done to make the geocentric system work. Then again, I am not a linguist, so what do I know? Still, I have often wondered since then how other linguists react to his theories, since in my linguistics class it was basically just taught as a factual description of human language.