Member # 516
posted 29. May 2003 15:40
As to Chomsky’s motives – he explains himself pretty well in Language and Mind (1972) if not in similar publications later (which I haven’t read). Indeed … as I recall … he indeed “believes that humans are driven by the desire for creative expression”, and though he is not blind to a Darwinian drive for “anything so crass and petty as advantage”, he nevertheless recognizes a free will that defies mechanistic explanation. He has been clear (in my meager reading) that syntax is an open ended calculus for creative expression – not “Consciousness Explained”.
But there are reasons to critique Chomsky. His innateness theory has not fared well outside linguistics, I’m told, and even from within linguistics it has come under heavy criticism. Chomsky argued for an autonomous syntax with no necessary semantic or functional connections. Language, of course, is structured hierarchically and follows recursive principles, but this being said it has been terribly difficult identifying universals that are not functionally/cognitively motivated. I know one former formalist who, for this very reason, has given up on the search for universals. Others – notably those of the functional-typological school – are busy looking for cognitive/functional universals.
I have heard Chomsky called a Platonist (presumably a bad thing outside the hard sciences) for whom the Platonic forms are “hardwired” as opposed to being “written in heaven”. Once I wrote a short squib for an obscure Mexican journal suggesting that if physicists can be mathematical Platonists, why not us? My local Mexican colleagues loved the idea, but so far up north I’ve not found a linguist who even knows what mathematical Platonism is – which might explain why Roger Penrose could be called “simply muddled”.
The functional/typological school (as in the Typological Studies in Language series at Benjamins) tends to be strongly Darwinian but of the gradualist bent. Those who like Chomsky’s innatism, e.g., Derrick Bickerton (as mentioned above), are the nongradualists. In fact I’ve been told that Chomsky had some communication with Gould re his punctuated equilibrium theory. Chomsky has tended to see his “language organ” as all or nothing (which the IDists might call irreducible complexity) which, of course, would be difficult for a gradualist model. But I once heard a lecture by a functionalist guru who insisted that Chomsky’s motive was combating the racism inherent in Darwinian gradualism.
Linguistics is pertinent to ISCID – or surely should be – but I sense a deserved reprimand from the moderator for taking this thread so far from its original intent – a discussion of biological redundancy and degeneracy. But then – if ID is on the right track – maybe biological degeneracy and linguistic reanalysis/grammaticalization are not just analogically similar – maybe they are exactly equivalent – though one arises in the medium of language and the other in biological form.
[ 29. May 2003, 15:47: Message edited by: Noel Rude ]