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Hate America Guru Faulted By: Marc Miyake
RightWingNews.com | Monday, March 17, 2003

Many conservatives regard Chomsky as a linguist who falters out of his field. Unfortunately, they are giving Chomsky too much credit. Chomsky's linguistics are as warped as his politics.

As someone with a PhD in linguistics, I think I am qualified to judge his professional credentials.

Prior to Chomsky, linguists engaged in a lot of data collection to understand the diversity of human language. I'm vehemently anti-PC, but in this case, I think the word 'diversity' is justified. There's a lot out there, and someone's got to catalog it.

However, Chomsky rejected this approach. He wanted to look into something deeper' (academese for 'pretentious and nonexistent'). So he invented something called 'universal grammar' which is somehow programmed into us at birth. Now it is obvious to anyone who's studied a foreign language that there is no such thing as 'universal grammar': there are a lot of differences between any two languages' structures. How does Chomsky account for these differences? He claims that we formulate 'deep structures' in our heads using 'universal grammar'. Then we use 'transformations' to change these (invisible, nonexistent) 'deep structures' into 'surface structures' (which are what we actually say and write). There are innumerable problems with this. For starters:

1. Where did this 'universal grammar' come from, and how did it end up becoming part of our biology? Not many Chomskyans are interested in evolutionary biology. 'Universal grammar' simply IS. (I myself suspect that there may be a universal grammar sans scare quotes, but I doubt that it has much in common with Chomskyan 'universal grammar'.)

2. How can we see this 'universal grammar' and 'deep structures' if they are hidden behind 'transformations'?

3. How can we see the 'transformations'?

4. How can any child learn the 'transformations' (which are extremely complex and often counterintuitive, even to university graduate students in linguistics)?

Since no one can see 'universal grammar', 'deep structures', or 'transformations', one can imagine ANYTHING and create a maze of rules to convert ghost forms into what is actually being said and written. The Chomskyan approach to grammar is oddly English-like, even though many languages are UNlike English. This has absurd but dangerous consquences:

1. As a friend of mine pointed out, Chomsky, the enemy of "AmeriKKKa", is actually an ethnocentric advocate of imposing an English-like structure on all of the languages of the world.

Imagine if some professor said that there was a 'universal religion' programmed into us at birth. What if this person were, say, Buddhist? How would he explain the diversity of faiths around the world? He would say that all deities are 'transformations' of the 'underlying Buddha', all religious codes (e.g., the Ten Commandments, Sharia) are 'transformations' of the 'underlying dharma (Buddhist law)', etc. But, you then ask, how could a Muslim knowing nothing of Buddhism be an 'underlying Buddhist'? The professor would answer: 'Underlying religion' just IS.

Ridiculous? But that's how Chomskyans approach language.

2. This (let's be frank) *junk science* is very convenient for lazy academics who do not want to do real research but want to appear 'profound'. Chomskyans compete to create 'deep structures' that are the furthest from reality and the most complex 'transformations' possible. Never mind that neither of these non-entities can be depicted or tested except in a circular manner: "This transformation Z exists because it is needed to change deep structure X to surface structure Y. Deep structure X exists because if you take surface structure Y and undo transformation Z, you can see X underneath." I know of NO hard science (e.g., neurological) evidence for any of this. But the jargon sure looks impressive. This site parodies Chomskyan obscurantist writing by generating unreadable prose worthy of the master himself:


3. The combination of junk science and junk politics has made Chomsky an attractive - and unstoppable - juggernaut in the academic world. Academics - mostly left-wing to begin with - agree with his politics and assume his linguistics are as 'good'. Linguists who reject the Chomskyan paradigm such as myself are often either marginalized or shut out of the profession entirely. And not a few of Chomsky's linguistic opponents agree with his politics, I'd bet. I am the only linguist I know of who rejects both.

The late Nicholas Poppe, a Soviet emigre who was a master of Oriental linguistics, had this to say about Chomskyan linguistics in the US (_Reminiscences_, p. 207):

"Unfortunately, _true_ academic freedom, freedom to adhere to a scholarly theory of one's own choice, is often lacking in American universities, and scholars who do not comply with currently fashionable theories have little chance at a university. This makes an American university somewhat like a Soviet university: in the Soviet Union it is Marxism, in the United States it is, say, a currently obligatory method in linguistics."

Poppe does not specify what the "current obligatory method" of lingustics was. It was, and is Chomskyanism. Edublogger Joanne Jacobs was forced to learn it - and she hated it:


"Structural linguistics was required for a degree in English at Stanford. I put it off till my last semester; finally I had to take the class. It consisted of uncritical worship of Noam Chomsky. I kept disrupting class by asking questions: Why do we believe this is true? Just because Chomsky says so? How do we know he's right? Why is this class required?"

She asks precisely the right questions. Chomsky is not a scientist. He is a prophet who demands that people believe him. I call him 'Noamuhammad'. Since his claims cannot be proved, they have to be taken on faith.

And too many place their faith in him. Jacobs took her course in the mid-70s. Little has changed in a quarter of a century. Chomskyanism has been the dominant paradigm in linguistics for nearly forty years, and its major competitors share some of its weaknesses. Even if Chomsky's own version of nonsense dies out, others will continue to pump out 'junk science' that contributes little or nothing to language learning, language teaching, or intercultural understanding. And peer review has done nothing to stop the cult of Noamuhammad. Like James Hudnall said:


"Science in this day and age has become one big pimp act for government grants ... 'Peer review' is just another word for log rolling. It's as useful as what David Duke thinks of Mein Kampf."

Our tax dollars are funding Chomskyanism.

And linguists like me are paying the price in another way. I have been looking for a professorship in linguistics for four years with very little success - a semester here and a year there amidst countless rejections. I don't attack Chomsky in my cover letters, interviews, etc. but I don't pretend to worship him either. Exile from academia is my reward.

Is Chomsky a double fraud in both science and politics? I honestly don't know. I have never met him and don't want to - the urge to verbally attack him is too strong. Maybe he really believes what he says in one or both fields. But in any case, Chomsky is a troublemaker on two fronts. He is like Lenin and Lysenko rolled into one.

If you liked this editorial, you can read more of Marc's work at Amaravati: Abode Of Amritas.

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