Saturday, May 18, 2013

Contribution of Noam Chomsky

Contribution of Noam Chomsky
Contribution of Noam Chomsky in linguistics also mentions how his theory transformation generative grammar helps overcoming the structural ambiguity through phrase structure rules.
v Introduction
            Avram Noam Chomsky December 7, 1928) is an American linguist, philosopher,[ cognitive scientist, logician, historian, political critic, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and Professor (Emeritus) in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at MIT, where he has worked for over 50 years In addition to his work in linguistics, he has written on war, politics, and mass media, and is the author of over 100 books.[ According to the Arts and Humanities Citation Index in 1992, Chomsky was cited as a source more often than any other living scholar from 1980 to 1992, and was the eighth most cited source overall. He has been described as a prominent cultural figure, and he was voted the "world's top public intellectual" in a 2005 poll.

v "father of modern linguistics"
            Chomsky has been described as the "father of modern linguistics" and a major figure of analytic philosophy. His work has influenced fields such as computer science, mathematics, and psychology. He is credited as the creator or co-creator of the Chomsky hierarchy, the universal grammar theory, and the Chomsky–Sch├╝tzenberger theorem.
After the publication of his first books on linguistics, Chomsky became a prominent critic of the Vietnam War, and since then has continued to publish books of political criticism. He has become well known for his critiques of U.S. foreign policy,[24] state capitalismand the mainstream news media. His media criticism has included Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), co-written with Edward S. Herman, an analysis articulating the propaganda model theory for examining the media. He describes his views as "fairly traditional anarchist ones, with origins in the Enlightenment and classical liberalism and often identifies with anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism.

v critics of American and Israeli policies
            Noam Chomsky, Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute  of Technology, in the United States is arguably one of the world’s most versatile and creative thinkers. His lectures in South Asia are being widely reported in many papers. He is visiting Pakistan also. He is well known for being one of the most respected and acclaimed critics of American and Israeli policies in the world.
            He has been critical of America’s violence in Vietnam; The Gulf War of 1991 with Iraq which has resulted in death and malnutrition for so many Iraqis; American and Israeli suppression of the Palestinians and nowadays the U.S’s use of overwhelming force against Afghanistan. As these are all political issues, people often forget that Chomsky is a profoundly original thinker in linguistics too. There are several books on the Chomskyan Revolution in linguistics but, since linguistics is not taught in a systematic manner at the advanced level in Pakistan, most people are unaware of Chomsky’s contribution to it.

v The aims of Chomsky
            In the Managua lectures of 1986 Chomsky defined his aims. These are to answer the following questions:
1.      What is the system of knowledge? What is in the mind/brain of the speaker of English or   Spanish or Japanese?
2.                                                  How does this system of knowledge arise in the mind/brain?
3.                                                  How is this knowledge put to use in speech (or secondary systems such a writing)
4.                                                  What are the physical mechanisms that serve as the material basis for this system
of knowledge and for the use of this knowledge?
            These questions lie in the domains of psychology and philosophy also. That is why Chomsky is not the kind of narrow linguist who only dabbles in nouns and verbs or compares words in different languages to find out which family a language belongs to. He is a revolutionary in linguistics because he has provided theories which give us insights into the processing of language in the mind.

v Innateness of language
            Basically, Chomsky argues that human beings are endowed with an innate capacity to learn language (Language Acquisition Device). We also have certain rules which are universal for language-learning (Universal Grammar) but we adjust these rules so as to learn the specific rules of the language to which we are most exposed in childhood. At the deep level our mind is equipped with the words (Lexicon) and the basic rules (phrase structure rules) which enable us to make sentences. These basic sentences are sequences of meaning and have to be transformed by other sets of rules to be spoken or written down. This device which we have in our minds is called ‘grammar’. As we have seen, it generates basic sets of meaning (kernel sentences) and transforms them by using transformational rules. Hence the grammar in our minds may be called ‘transformational-generative grammar’. In other words, we have a computer programme in the mind. This programme processes language to produce sentences. The programme is meant for the production of any human language but we modify it to produce our first language in early infancy. After this if we do learn other languages we tend to continue to use some of the rules of our first language to produce sentences in our newly learned language. That is why most of us retain a ‘foreign’ accent when we speak another language. This foreigness comes from using the old rules of our first language to produce sounds of another language.

v Chomsky’s contribution
In short, Chomsky’s theories help us understand phenomenon like language acquisition. These are the insights Chomsky’s theories give us. These insights are now used into fields as complicated as robotics, artificial intelligence, psychology and philosophy. Although some aspects of Chomsky’s theories are unprovable this maybe because he is dealing with very complicated issues. It is like Stephen Hawking’s theories about what happens just before one enters a black hole or what happend a micro second after the Big Bang. One deals with abstractions and not with tangible objects to begin with. Even if some theories are mistaken, most of Chomsky’s work is still the major ‘paradigm’ (as used by Kuhn) in linguistics. His position in linguistics is like that of Einstein’s in physics---even to prove part of it wrong, you have to refer to the work as a whole.

            Had Chomsky taught the world only linguistics he might never have become as famous as he has. Chomsky has become famous both as a linguist and as a dissident intellectual. He is an American citizen; yet he opposed the U.S.A’s war in Vietnam. He is Jewish; yet he opposes Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian Arabs. This kind of fearless commitment to humanity is so rare as to evoke the world’s admiration. Yet, in his own country, he is reviled by the chauvinistic press, which he exposes.

            Chomsky has expressed deep insight into the nature and use of power---which is the central issue in politics---in a series of brilliant books. A book written with Edward Herman entitled Manufacturing Consent (1988) makes the point that in democracies, since governments do not find it convenient to jail or assassinate dissidents, peoples’ views are influenced by the pressure of the media in the desired direction so much that those who disagree look like fools or fanatics to the others. In an essay ‘Democracy and Markets in the New World Order’ he tells us that the ‘free market’ is ‘state protection and public subsidy for the rich, market discipline for the poor’. This means making the poor poorer but everyone agrees to use such sanitized words for it that nobody can understand how cruel and oppressive the system is for the powerless.

v Chomsky’s political position

            In a number of books and articles, like Fateful Triangle (1983), Chomsky tells us that America supports Israel against the Palestinian Arabs. The Israelis, he says, do not accept the Palestinians as equal human beings. They suppress them and use them as cheap labour. The Israeli settlements are formidable places where stone-throwing Palestinians boys are shot with impunity and torture is used regularly. He ends this books by predicting that the ‘peace process’ could actually make Israel dominant and end the Palestinian problem by crushing out the dissidents while co-opting the others in a new Apartheid kind of Israeli state. He says that if this happens the ‘privileged sectors of American, Israeli, and Palestinian society will have a lot to answer for’.


            Chomskyan linguistics, beginning with his Syntactic Structures, a distillation of his Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory (1955, 75), challenges structural linguistics and introduces transformational grammar.[61] This approach takes utterances (sequences of words) to have a syntax characterized by a formal grammar; in particular, a context-free grammar extended with transformational rules.

            Perhaps his most influential and time-tested contribution to the field is the claim that modeling knowledge of language using a formal grammar accounts for the "productivity" or "creativity" of language. In other words, a formal grammar of a language can explain the ability of a hearer-speaker to produce and interpret an infinite number of utterances, including novel ones, with a limited set of grammatical rules and a finite set of terms. He has always acknowledged his debt to Panini for his modern notion of an explicit generative grammar, although it is also related to rationalist ideas of a priori knowledge.

            It is a popular misconception that Chomsky proved that language is entirely innate, and that he discovered a "universal grammar" (UG). In fact, Chomsky simply observed that while a human baby and a kitten are both capable of inductive reasoning, if they are exposed to exactly the same linguistic data, the human child will always acquire the ability to understand and produce language, while the kitten will never acquire either ability. Chomsky labeled whatever the relevant capacity the human has that the cat lacks the "language acquisition device" (LAD) and suggested that one of the tasks for linguistics should be to figure out what the LAD is and what constraints it puts on the range of possible human languages. The universal features that would result from these constraints are often termed "universal grammar" or UG.[62]

            The Principles and Parameters approach (P&P) – developed in his Pisa 1979 Lectures, later published as Lectures on Government and Binding (LGB) – makes strong claims regarding universal grammar: that the grammatical principles underlying languages are innate and fixed, and the differences among the world's languages can be characterized in terms of parameter settings in the brain (such as the pro-drop parameter, which indicates whether an explicit subject is always required, as in English, or can be optionally dropped, as in Spanish), which are often likened to switches. (Hence the term principles and parameters, often given to this approach.) In this view, a child learning a language need only acquire the necessary lexical items (words, grammatical morphemes, and idioms), and determine the appropriate parameter settings, which can be done based on a few key examples.

            Proponents of this view argue that the pace at which children learn languages is inexplicably rapid, unless children have an innate ability to learn languages. The similar steps followed by children all across the world when learning languages, and the fact that children make certain characteristic errors as they learn their first language, whereas other seemingly logical kinds of errors never occur (and, according to Chomsky, should be attested if a purely general, rather than language-specific, learning mechanism were being employed), are also pointed to as indications of innateness.

More recently, in his Minimalist Program (1995), while retaining the core concept of "principles and parameters," Chomsky attempts a major overhaul of the linguistic machinery involved in the LGB model, stripping from it all but the barest necessary elements, while advocating a general approach to the architecture of the human language faculty that emphasizes principles of economy and optimal design, reverting to a derivational approach to generation, in contrast with the largely representational approach of classic P&P.

            Chomsky's ideas have had a strong influence on researchers of language acquisition in children, though many researchers in this area such as Elizabeth Bates[63] and Michael Tomasello[64] argue very strongly against Chomsky's theories, and instead advocate emergentist or connectionist theories, explaining language with a number of general processing mechanisms in the brain that interact with the extensive and complex social environment in which language is used and learned.

            His best-known work in phonology is The Sound Pattern of English (1968), written with Morris Halle (and often known as simply SPE). This work has had a great significance for the development in the field. While phonological theory has since moved beyond "SPE phonology" in many important respects, the SPE system is considered the precursor of some of the most influential phonological theories today, including autosegmental phonology, lexical phonology and optimality theory. Chomsky no longer publishes on phonology.

v Generative grammar
            The Chomskyan approach towards syntax, often termed generative grammar, studies grammar as a body of knowledge possessed by language users. Since the 1960s, Chomsky has maintained that much of this knowledge is innate, implying that children need only learn certain parochial features of their native languages.[65] The innate body of linguistic knowledge is often termed universal grammar. From Chomsky's perspective, the strongest evidence for the existence of Universal Grammar is simply the fact that children successfully acquire their native languages in so little time. Furthermore, he argues that there is an enormous gap between the linguistic stimuli to which children are exposed and the rich linguistic knowledge they attain (the "poverty of the stimulus" argument). The knowledge of Universal Grammar would serve to bridge that gap.

            Chomsky's theories have been immensely influential within linguistics, but they have also received criticism. One recurring criticism of the Chomskyan variety of generative grammar is that it is Anglocentric and Eurocentric, and that often linguists working in this tradition have a tendency to base claims about Universal Grammar on a very small sample of languages, sometimes just one. Initially, the Eurocentrism was exhibited in an overemphasis on the study of English. However, hundreds of different languages have now received at least some attention within Chomskyan linguistic analyses.[66][67][68][69][70] In spite of the diversity of languages that have been characterized by UG derivations, critics continue to argue that the formalisms within Chomskyan linguistics are Anglocentric and misrepresent the properties of languages that are different from English.[71][72][73] Thus, Chomsky's approach has been criticized as a form of linguistic imperialism.[74] In addition, Chomskyan linguists rely heavily on the intuitions of native speakers regarding which sentences of their languages are well-formed. This practice has been criticized on general methodological grounds. Some psychologists and psycholinguists,[who?] though sympathetic to Chomsky's overall program, have argued that Chomskyan linguists pay insufficient attention to experimental data from language processing, with the consequence that their theories are not psychologically plausible. Other critics (see language learning) have questioned whether it is necessary to posit Universal Grammar to explain child language acquisition, arguing that domain-general learning mechanisms are sufficient.

Today there are many different branches of generative grammar; one can view grammatical frameworks such as head-driven phrase structure grammar, lexical functional grammar, and combinatory categorial grammar as broadly Chomskyan and generative in orientation, but with significant differences in execution.

v Conclusion
            Chomsky’s writings on politics, whether it is East Timor or the West Bank or any other place, are based on empirical evidence of the kind which takes years to find. Most dissident writing on such subjects is high on emotion but short or facts. Chomsky’s writing is full of facts. His argument is built brick by brick, so to speak, and is impossible to demolish even if one points out inaccuracies as his critics very often do. As Edward Said said about Fateful Triangle, his sources are ‘staggeringly complete’ and the book maybe the most ambitious book ever attempted on the conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians. Now that Chomsky has spoken out against the U.S.A’s attack on Afghanistan he has again taught us that if we want to preserve decency and democratic values then we must have the moral courage of standing up to opinions which appear to be based on the consent of the powerful---that ‘consent’ which, in his immortal phrase, is ‘manufactured consent’.