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Why the Chomskians Are Mistaken
39. The dubious level of linguistic sophistication achieved by most of these so-called linguists. As noted, there appears to be a distinct difference in the language learning process for those languages learned earlier in life and those learned later on. Those whose experiences place them in the former groupwhich may encompass most of the major Chomskianstend to suppose their languages come to them automatically, even painlessly, and share few of the insights gained by members of the latter group. It is also legitimate to ask precisely how well or often they speak any of their foreign languagesor even how well they speak English.
There is no need for academic linguists to speak with a RADA accentindeed, few American TGG zealots probably even know what a RADA accent is*. But it would be useful if they could at least learn to pronounce American English somewhat correctly when they speak and not constantly punctuate their speech with "ers," "uh's," and other solecisms. The ability to speak French reasonably well, though declining throughout the world, is also still considered a desideratum among the educated. But judging from the excerpts presented in the film Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky chose to speak mainly English during his "debate" with Jean Piaget.
The author has dealt with the increasing silliness of French linguistic claims elsewhere on this website** , but it still remains the case that a truly world-class American intellectual ought to be able to debate with French intellectuals in their own terms and in their own language. Can Noam Chomsky sit down face to face with a French counterpart and discusswithout assistance from his followersmatters of mutual interest, or can he not?
The author will for the time being extend the benefit of a doubt on this matter and looks forward to learning that Chomsky does in fact speak sufficient French for this purpose.*** If this seems like an excessively aggressive point, it is because TGG theorists have done their best to create a new definition of the word "linguist" and totally eradicate the old one. For their information, in addition to its scholarly connotations it once actually meant "someone able to speak foreign languages."
There is little doubt that basic language skills, such as speaking, reading, and writing foreign languages, much less the ability to translate or interpret between them, have undergone a decline among "linguists"since the onset of TGG theories.
*RADA stands for the "Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts," where many of Britain's finest performers receive their training in speech and acting.
**For instance, click here and then click here.
***Since writing this sentence, it was revealed during discussions on the sci.lang newsgroup that Chomsky also pointedly failed to speak French with the French theorist Michel Foucault and defended this failure in the following terms:
"I've met: Foucault (we even have a several-hour discussion, which is in print, and spent quite a few hours in very pleasant conversation, on real issues, and using language that was perfectly comprehensible --- he speaking French, me English);" [citation available at http://www.santafe.edu/~shalizi/chomsky-on-postmodernism.html]
While it's possible that Foucaultwho spent time in California and has recorded a tape in Englishunderstood Chomsky better than vice versa, most interpreters and professional linguists may remain skeptical as to whether these "real issues" would indeed be "perfectly comprehensible" to someone who has not thoroughly immersed himself in French language and culture.
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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
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