Why the Chomskians Are Mistaken.
refutationeven a debunkingof the
theories of Noam Chomsky and his followers. Though
written in a simple style, it is nonetheless quite
detailed, and readers are more likely to enjoy
this piece if they read the preceding three
selections first. With additional sections by Sergio
Navega and composed expressly for this website.
If you prefer to read the single-file,
straight-text version, you may do so
by clicking here.
Summary of Links to the 44 Reasons
About the authors and their fields of study, including an invitation to readers to contribute critiques of this treatment and/or additional reasons.
TGG as an exemplar of merely the latest decline in learning. The need to balance anger and indignation with humor and skepticism in dealing with these theories. The ultimate goal: a far more inclusive description of language theory and functions.
The naive reliance of these doctrines on "grammar." Language as a vast, never-finished building constructed over the centuries.
What Chomskianism overlooks and/or totally ignores: the sheer physicality of language, its close relationship to musical and rhythmic elements, coupled with an arbitrary and almost all-encompassing reductionism concerning many other crucial aspects of language.
The all too obvious failure of TGG's most central concepts: "universal grammar," "deep structure," "poverty of stimulus," and the "innateness of language."
Further failure of claims based on mathematics and the supposed primacy of infant language learning processes.
The nearly abject failure of the one practical application that ought to be a showcase for TGG: so-called "machine translation."
The ludicrous and almost total concentration on written language alone, to the near exclusion of spoken language, along with the sheer silliness of the examples frequently provided even for written texts.
The often large-scale irrelevancy of TGG's linguistic "calculations," aka "doing linguistics."
The near impenetrability of the TGG writing style, the many problems determining the precise details of the theory because of its many shifts and changes over the decades, and the lack of clarity provided by its latest "minimalist" flavor.
The never-ending postponement of any final proof for these theories, coupled with an unusual degree of arrogance often accompanying their promotion.
The intolerant and quite possibly premature dismissal by TGG advocates of major contributions made to this field by figures like Whorf, Sapir, Bloomfield, and Skinner.
The exclusion of all "empiricism" from their so-called scientific method and their further exclusion of work by language professionals in closely related fields.
The seeming unconcern of these would-be scholars with an important nuance in the history of linguistics, their comparative ignorance of many periods during that history, and their slow but certain movement towards what often comes close to being "literary criticism."
The first three reasons by Sergio Navega. Is grammar truly wired into our DNA, and if so how does this relate to the origins of language? Is language even a human-specific event? How does language relate to Natural Selection?
The second three reasons by Sergio Navega. Why self-organization may be more important than the TGG doctrine of modularity. The evidence from genetically-based cognitive disorders. The ever-growing mass of anti-TGG literature.
The propagandistic goals and methods pursued by supporters of these beliefs.
U.S. Army funding of much TGG Research. The failure of these doctrines to provide constructive insights for either translators or language teachers. The pretentious treatment surrounding the supposed contrast between "Plato's Question" and "Orwell's Question." The lowering of standards for intellectual discourse.
The dubious level of linguistic sophistication achieved by many TGG linguists. How high are their standards and achievements in speaking, reading, and writing foreign languagesor even English?
Several potential fallacies inherent in these theories: TGG as a tossup between a theory of linguistics and a religious cult; dubious claims based on citation statistics; their imperfect mastery of even the details of their own doctrines; their continued appeal, alone among sciences in this day and age, to the authority of Aristotle.
The larger question of whether any theory of language can ever be fully successful, or if such a breakthrough might not also require the even more questionable success of perfect AI in all domains of human life.
TGG is certainly not a fraud. It is merely a body of inept linguistics supported by something remarkably resembling religious warfare and/or an academic turf game. Possible improvements springing from this critique.
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This piece is Copyright © 2000
by Alexander Gross, with specified
portions Copyright © 2000 by
Sergio Navega. It may be
reproduced for individuals and for
educational purposes only. It may
not be used for any commercial (i.e.,
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