Thoughts on economics and liberty

Has Noam Chomsky bombed as a linguist?

Noam Chomsky is known across the world more as a fanatic socialist (or libertarian socialist as he prefers to call himself) than linguist. A mega-confused thinker, he is extremely popular among well-heeled capitalist society intellectuals whose hobby is to find fault with capitalism while praising maniacal dictators in the Third World. 

Since a linguist is not expected to understand economics, so I've totally ignored Chomsky. But I at least thought he was a highly regarded linguist – it is surely not a trivial task to become a professor at MIT. 

However, it now appears that the most important thing he is known for in linguistics: his theory of generative grammar, being "an innate set of linguistic principles [apparently] shared by all humans" – has been meticulously debunked recently. That has thrown a big question about his competence as a linguist, as well.  

The Economist of 16 April 2011 in a detailed article notes (here) that "If Dr Dunn is correct, that leaves Dr Chomsky’s ideas in tatters, and raises questions about the very existence of a language organ." In other words, language is learned, not innate. Chomsky's theory is now fighting for survival.

Digression: Sanskrit did NOT originate in India

Do read the article in full. Very interesting. One of the corollaries of the research reported in The Economist is that Sanskrit DID NOT originate in India – despite a claim often made by  fanatical Hindus todaySanskrit is a derivative AFRICAN language (like any other). 

This finding is consistent with the decades-long work of the head Librarian of NEHU (I forget his name now – Pathak?) who patiently showed me in 2000, in Shillong, his detailed research which conclusively proved that place names and people names in ancient Hindu scriptures (including in the Ramayana) had clear counterparts DEEP inside Africa.

Yes, Sanskrit did flourish in India and in that sense is an Indian language, but its root words have come all the way from Africa through the Middle East – just as ALL Indians (and indeed the entire peoples of the world) themselves have originated in Africa.

There is now a positive match between the DNA theories of human evolution (and migration) and linguistic theories. 


That Chomsky is wrong is confirmed. As clear a proof as one can get – that nature has merely focused on building a general learning ability. Language is just ONE of the many learning/ logical abilities. We can cast aside Chosmky's key idea.

 As Enard points out, the language-as-island idea is also inconsistent with the way evolution typically works. “What I don’t like about the ‘module’ is the idea that it evolved from scratch somehow. In my view, it’s more that existing neural circuits have been adapted for language and speech.”

Sanjeev Sabhlok

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6 thoughts on “Has Noam Chomsky bombed as a linguist?
  1. jesvin

    Thats brilliant work. I wondered how could study the digression from Eden.
    But I know some interesting exceptions:
    1. The 'mma' is common for words for mother for almost all people.
    2. People irrespective of subject-object-verb or subject-verb-action sentence construction have the same physiological (by MRI) response of subject-object-verb. I always wonder if subject-verb-action construction was a neccesary condition for logic to arise in humans.

  2. Prasanna Sreedharan

    I am not aware of the new theory or how it has debunked the theory of regenerative grammar. It is not my area of expertise and so cannot comment on it. I however have a few observations.

    1. Chomsky is completely ignored in the mainstream capitalist media in the United States. Therefore I don’t understand what you mean by “popular among well-heeled capitalist society intellectuals”.

    2. I do not recall he ever having defended maniacal dictators of Third World Countries. If you meant this about the “well-heeled capitalist society intellectuals” then I guess it depends on what your definition of who an intellectual is. Most socialist intellectuals who criticize Capitalism and not the dictators is because Western Capitalism and the governments there played a significant role in the rise and sustenance of these dictators. Therefore they feel it is easy and pointless to criticize the outcome and so correctly spend their time criticizing the cause

    3. If Newton’s theory was debunked by Einstein, that does not threaten the former’s competence as a scientist. This is the nature of progress in science. As Einstein too was later proved wrong on his personal stance on Quantum Theory with his disagreement with Niels Bohr (even though Einstein’s first famous paper was on the Photoelectric Effect which is related to Quantum Theory)

  3. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Did you read the Economist article that challenged one of Chomosky’s key theories?

    Re: ” I don’t understand what you mean by “popular among well-heeled capitalist society intellectuals”. Indeed, he is very popular among the lefties who live off the opportunities (and subsidies) wangled from a (largely) capitalist society. I’m not sure what you mean by “mainstream capitalist media”. The mainstream media is HUGELY leftist. A few odd spots exist where ideas about liberty get a voice.

    I didn’t say HE defends dictators. On that he is quite good – he defends freedom of expression. But his LEFTY SUPPORTERS do so, for whom capitalism (particularly economic freedom) is a bad idea.


  4. Atul

    There is nothing new about opposition of universal grammar theory , its still a hugely debated subject. If any doubts read the work of Sampson, Roediger, Elman and Hurford and countless others. A popular misconception is that Chomsky proved that language is entirely innate, and that he discovered a “universal grammar” (UG). Which is a total fallacy propagated after he joined anti-vietnaam war and other anti-government movements. 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 will always acquire the ability to understand and produce language, while the kitten will never acquire either ability.
    Chomsky is the world’s most renowned linguist not because of this theory but because of his foundational work on logical structure of linguistic theory and transformational grammar which kinda of formed the basis of a complete sub-branch of computer science today.

  5. Chomky Boi

    Prior to my response the content of your post, I’d just like to address one of the flagrant ad hominems that you present in your introductory paragraphs. The notion that Chomsky or his ideas in any way lead to the support of maniacal dictators in the third world is a rather odd one, particularly given his outspoken opposition to all authoritarian regimes, and self-professed anarchism. I would also like to see some hard evidence that he is economically incompetent if you have it, since it is a rather extraordinary claim to make out of hand. In fact, I am tempted to make a similar claim about non-linguists presenting serious critiques of linguistic theory.
    Now I’ll proceed to rebut the body of your post. Firstly, the idea that if UG were refuted, ‘that [would throw] a big question about his competence as a linguist, as well’ is frankly a bizarre one. If we compare this to, say, the physical sciences, it would clearly be a perverse notion that, after the refutation of classical mechanics, Newton’s ‘competence’ should come under scrutiny. In addition, Chomsky’s importance to the field of linguistics is not limited to the UG hypothesis; the ideas of transformational and generative grammar spring immediately to mind, as well as his significant contributions to the field of formal languages. The first source that you cite to justify your claim that UG has been successfully refuted is an economist article that briefly summarises Dunn’s paper on linguistic universals. It only really casts doubt on a certain species of the ‘principles and parameters’ model (in particular the latter of its two components), and doesn’t refute, for example, the universality of recursion (one of Chomsky’s central claims).
    As a side note, I have no idea of the relevance of Indian philology to the discussion at hand, and find your claim that Sanskrit originated in Africa quite baffling (are we to take it that the Indo-Iranian migration took place via Africa? Or are you questioning the entire Indo-European theory?). Regardless, a claim of this magnitude requires extraordinary evidence, which you fail to provide.
    The final source that you cite, namely Svoboda’s article ‘The Family That Couldn’t Say Hippopotamus’, does not at all bear out the conclusion that you suggest it does in the text of your blog. Perhaps its most important citation is Dunn’s aforementioned paper which, as I have already explained, does not adequately refute UG. Even the very extract you quote (selectively I might add) suggests nothing of the sort, since the core principles of UG are completely compatible with a non-modular conception of the language organ (although this is not itself convincingly argued for in the article). Ultimately, I think you are just an ideologue who wants to smear the intellectual reputations of your detractors, however dishonestly; in fact, you make this clear enough with your introductory remarks. This whole post, in fact, reminds me of a similarly embarrassing attempt to refute Chomsky’s academic work for political reasons in Horowitz’s ‘Anti-Chomsky Reader’.


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