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Chomsky's Error

It's always nice to see Noam Chomsky shown up as a self-important windbag who doesn't know what he's talking about. In this case, his linguistic theories are shown up as flawed by an Amazonian tribe of hunter-gatherers that just refuses to conform to his language models.

The Pirahã language does not have color words or grammatical devices for putting phrases inside other phrases. They do not have fiction or creation myths, and they have a lack of numbers and counting. Despite 200 years of contact, they have steadfastly refused to learn Portuguese or any other outside language. The unifying feature behind all of these characteristics is a cultural restriction against talking about things that extend beyond personal experience. This restriction counters claims of linguists, such as Noam Chomsky, that grammar is genetically driven system with universal features.


I find this truly stupendous.

Comments

( 2 sutras — Your wisdom )
wrdnrd
Aug. 2nd, 2005 10:10 pm (UTC)
The unifying feature behind all of these characteristics is a cultural restriction against talking about things that extend beyond personal experience.

There are days i'd like to see this implemented in speakers of English.

The few theories of Chomsky's with which i'm familiar make sense for English. I really don't have any knowledge of how his theories extend to other languages. And, frankly, i'm extremely dubious of theories that attempt to extend to multiple languages at once. Theories of language families -- maybe, because there's so much overlap from, say, French to Italian to Spanish. On the other hand, however, there's no value in looking at a languge outside of its cultural frame of reference. Language can not be computer generated ... which, if i remember correctly, is where Chomsky originally got his notions.

Having said all that, i still think this is brilliant:
(M) + [have + (-en)] + [be + (-ing)] + V

Hmm. That feels like it's missing something. I'll have to double-check when i'm home.
the_monkey_king
Aug. 3rd, 2005 12:52 am (UTC)
While I enjoy tweaking Chomsky, the part that impresses me as a writer is the "They do not have fiction or creation myths, and they have a lack of numbers and counting. Despite 200 years of contact, they have steadfastly refused to learn Portuguese or any other outside language."

No creation myths!? No fiction! No numbers! And staunch isolationists. I just gotta respect any culture that's so... Zen. So unconnected to everything I think of as "my daily life."
( 2 sutras — Your wisdom )

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