Chomping at Chomsky

There are many reasons to resent Chomsky’s effect on the field of linguistics. But here’s an essay on one of the most basic problems with his approach — he likes to call his approach science, but it’s really really not.

This is not to say that I have anything against thought experiments and stylization. But those aren’t supposed to be the end of scientific investigation; they should be only their beginning.

Many of Chomsky’s ideas are decent beginnings or partial explanations. But every time somebody would point out that his work only explained X and totally failed to explain the rest of the alphabet, he would apparently pitch a fit or loftily explain that the rest of the alphabet was meaningless gibberish and frills. Since he had a cadre of faithful followers, this pretty much stalled useful linguistics work or made people do it out of the public eye.

As Chomsky’s followers retire, and as criticizing or bypassing his approaches becomes more acceptable even among his followers, linguistics is finally rebounding.


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