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Jolly linguistics spat

 
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
Posts: 2742
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 6:54 am    Post subject: Jolly linguistics spat Reply with quote

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=419565
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Cool Teacher



Joined: 18 May 2009
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Location: Here, There and Everywhere! :D

PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 8:15 am    Post subject: Re: Jolly linguistics spat Reply with quote

fluffyhamster wrote:
http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=419565


When I sow this I knew it would be about Chomksy. Shocked

I see that Geffrey Pullum is the other person in the spat. He just says that the Chomksy book is not worth buying because it is just a transcript of a bad interview in which Chomsky said nothign very interesting and/or maybe something wrong. Confused

I'm trying to understand what his theories are and why they are so controversail... Confused

Can anyone help me? Cool
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fluffyhamster



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PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 8:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Actually, Chomsky's theories still have many adherents, so in a sense they aren't controversial. The issue is more if the adherence has been quite justified, and if there aren't better ways forward, especially nowadays. I can't claim to be an expert on these matters, but two books by Geoffrey Sampson are well worth a look IMHO: firstly his The Language Instinct Debate (which to my mind is a far better and more productive read than Pinker's The Language Instinct), and secondly his Empirical Linguistics, which is a collection of sometimes quite technical papers, and thus more for just dipping into compared to TLID. There was a potted version of TLID on Sampson's website the last time I looked. Then, Geoffrey Pullum has written a number of reasonably readable papers and articles, which you can find on Pullum's webpage and over on especially the older/classic Language Log website. I can dig out a few links if you like, CT.
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Cool Teacher



Joined: 18 May 2009
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 9:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

fluffyhamster wrote:
Actually, Chomsky's theories still have many adherents, so in a sense they aren't controversial. The issue is more if the adherence has been quite justified, and if there aren't better ways forward, especially nowadays. I can't claim to be an expert on these matters, but two books by Geoffrey Sampson are well worth a look IMHO: firstly his The Language Instinct Debate (which to my mind is a far better and more productive read than Pinker's The Language Instinct), and secondly his Empirical Linguistics, which is a collection of sometimes quite technical papers, and thus more for just dipping into compared to TLID. There was a potted version of TLID on Sampson's website the last time I looked. Then, Geoffrey Pullum has written a number of reasonably readable papers and articles, which you can find on Pullum's webpage and over on especially the older/classic Language Log website. I can dig out a few links if you like, CT.


Thanks! Cool I have read the Language Instinct and I thought it was interestng but I was still confused about Chomsky's ideas. Does he think that there is an actual part of the brain that does language and does it have the universal grammar inside it? Confused I should try to read that Sampson book. Very Happy
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fluffyhamster



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PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 8:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, there are parts of the brain that "do language", as any Psycholinguistics 101 course will tell you. (If these parts get damaged by e.g. decapitation it can certainly affect one's language ability). Whether or not there is an LAD or UG chip or whatever in the form that Chomsky postulates is a lot more open to debate however. One gets the impression from even a cursory reading of Chomsky's work that he sat down in an armchair and decided what language is or should be like, and then started firing off examples and axioms according to his intuition and his logic, and almost by fiat. A good proportion of the critical responses to Chomsky's ideas have therefore necessarily had to deal with those inexorable examples and logic, and one can get a good idea of the what the earlier, Chomsky-related parts and counterarguments of Sampson's book are like from the following LL article by Pullum: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000156.html

The paper by Pullum & Scholz that Pullum alludes to can be found as the third Reference for the Wikipedia article on 'Poverty of the stimulus':
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty_of_the_stimulus

And here's another example of one of Chomsky's foundational arguments being found wanting:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000025.html
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teacheratlarge



Joined: 17 Nov 2011
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2012 1:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

If these parts get damaged by e.g. decapitation it can certainly affect one's language ability)

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/decapitation

For some reason, if one is decapitated, I think one would not be doing any lively communicating Cool .

Chomsky does come across as a more theoretical type of teacher rather than a practical sort of instructor. In other words, when it actually comes down to real teaching, Chomsky doesn't seem to help much.
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Cool Teacher



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PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2012 1:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

fluffyhamster wrote:
Yes, there are parts of the brain that "do language", as any Psycholinguistics 101 course will tell you. (If these parts get damaged by e.g. decapitation it can certainly affect one's language ability). Whether or not there is an LAD or UG chip or whatever in the form that Chomsky postulates is a lot more open to debate however. One gets the impression from even a cursory reading of Chomsky's work that he sat down in an armchair and decided what language is or should be like, and then started firing off examples and axioms according to his intuition and his logic, and almost by fiat. A good proportion of the critical responses to Chomsky's ideas have therefore necessarily had to deal with those inexorable examples and logic, and one can get a good idea of the what the earlier, Chomsky-related parts and counterarguments of Sampson's book are like from the following LL article by Pullum: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000156.html

The paper by Pullum & Scholz that Pullum alludes to can be found as the third Reference for the Wikipedia article on 'Poverty of the stimulus':
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty_of_the_stimulus

And here's another example of one of Chomsky's foundational arguments being found wanting:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000025.html


I appresciate the links fluffy! Cool I will try to look through them.

As for parts of the brian and how they affect language I seem to remember Pinker said there was a place called Broca's somethig(?) which is important for language. But Chomsky said something strange on a video I watched about UG where he said, "I can't remove language by taking out a piece of my brain." Confused

I think he is wrong in two ways abotu that although maybe I misunderstood him. Confused

Anwya, thanks again! Very Happy


Cool
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HLJHLJ



Joined: 06 Oct 2009
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2012 2:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There's a neural loop which includes Broca's area and Wernicke's area. Acute damage to Broca's area causes Broca's aphasia. It's primarily a production problem, so the person still knows the meanings of the words, but can't physically produce them anymore. (The comprehension/production distinction isn't as clear cut as used to be believed).

Damage to Wernicke's area causes almost the opposite problem, the person can produce extensive speech that sounds fairly natural in terms of rhythm and tone, and with relatively intact syntax. However, the content is nonsense with words seemingly chosen at random.

Acute damage to either one leaves you functionally unable to speak, but it's still only a small part of the whole system. There's no single area that could be 'removed' or damaged that would take out 'language' in its entirety.
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2012 2:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear HLJHLJ,

Moreover, as the utterances of certain politicians shows, the whole brain can be removed without hindering the ability to produce speech. Of course, it's all nonsense, but strangely enough, not everyone realizes that.

Regards,
John
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HLJHLJ



Joined: 06 Oct 2009
Posts: 921

PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2012 2:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Funny you should mention that. One of the odd side-effects of aphasias is that they seem to leave people better able to identify lies by facial expression. Oliver Sachs reported patients getting angry or laughing at politicians on television, because they couldn't follow the speech and and all they saw was the lies.
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2012 2:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear HLJHLJ,

Hmm - could the entire population of the US be aphasiasized? What a boon that would be.

Regards,
John
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HLJHLJ



Joined: 06 Oct 2009
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2012 2:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mass lobotomies - it could work! Twisted Evil
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
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Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2012 5:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

HLJHLJ wrote:
There's no single area that could be 'removed' or damaged that would take out 'language' in its entirety.

Yes there is, it's called Bonce's area, aka the headus completum. Laughing (Note my little joke about decaptitation). Edit: Ah, I've only just noticed that Teacheratlarge has sort of picked me up on that. Very Happy As for Chomsky's views on the significance of linguistics for language teaching, see here: http://forums.eslcafe.com/teacher/viewtopic.php?p=37139#37139 . (From a thread which quoting as it does from Sampson and the like will hopefully again be of some interest to CT). There are however some who have held out hope for UG's eventual relevance for teaching e.g. Vivian Cook, and Terry Shortall: http://forums.eslcafe.com/teacher/viewtopic.php?p=43272#43272 (also includes a link to the previous link!).

Less well-known is the linguistic ailment called "Chomsky's wrist". It is primarily caused by excessive hypothesizing and handwaving, though impersonating a Viking longboat's fore and aft has also been implicated:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=VrMBHZWe2S8#t=174s
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