5th May 2011
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 today. Sanskrit 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.”