Thoughts on economics and liberty

Noam Chomsky’s theories are pseudo-science. Linguistics, however, is a deductive discipline worth pursuing.

Four years ago I wrote a blog post that noted significant questions being raised regarding Chomsky’s main theory of linguistics.

I’m currently investigating linguistics as a discipline in the context of the recent debate on my blog regarding PIE and Prakrits. The debate raised questions regarding linguistics as a science.

To understand linguistics better, I’ve reviewed Witzel’s explanation of linguistics here (this is worth reading, if you’ve not reviewed it yet, particularly sections 11.9 and 11.10.

I’ve reviewed Steven Pinker’s lecture on linguistics in which he supports Chomsky’s “universal grammar” or language organ theory.

And I’ve reviewed recent scienctific evidence regarding this issue. It is clear that scientific studies now overwhelmingly confirm that  “language relies on a surprisingly broad neural support system”. It is largely a function of general intelligence. There is no particular language organ, nor any universal grammar.

This article by Marc Miyake is brilliant, and shows that Chomsky’s garbled “theories” were being challenged well before scientific evidence demolished them comprehensively. Chosmky is a bad thinker, on matters both of economics and linguistics.

My tentative conclusions are that:

1) Linguistics is a form of deductive logic, like mathematics. It is NOT a science, having very little link with any empirical structures of the human brain.

2) Chomsky has entirely failed as a thinker, both in economics and linguistics.

3) Pinker is good but he should stick to what he is good at. He should give up his support for Chomsky’s ideas, which are plain false.

I am on Witzel’s side regarding the family analysis of languages. Linguistics IS a solid deductive discipline (it should not call itself a science, just like maths is not a science).  Anyone who has not mastered the logic of linguistics should avoid commenting on the deductions of linguistics in regard to things like Proto Indo European (PIE) etc. language families.

To that extent, Sonawani should study linguistics more carefully.

LINGUISTICS IN THE DECCAN COLLEGE

I keep citing Deccan College in relation to Indian archaeology, but it also has a very solid linguistics department.

One of the good friends (indeed, a couple – Jyoti and Anita) I made in Deccan College in the early 1980s was Jyotiprakash Tamuli. Jyoti is an Assamese and after his studies, Anita and Jyoti came back to Guwahati. Jyoti’s father was an outstanding mathematician (I think he was head of the department of mathematics in Gauhati University). I often met Jyoti and Anita in their house near Guwahati university. A brilliant couple.

Today, Jyoti is professor and head of linguistics in Guwahati University. His specialisation is the study of the structure of Assamese, which is one of the “standard” Indo-European languages of north India.

I’ll write to him regarding my observations (and try to copy Witzel, Miyake, Pinker and Chomsky), seeking his comments.

I’d also request Sonawani to contact Deccan College and take a couple of courses in linguistics – if he has time to do so. (He should avoid Chomsky’s works). That will help him better understand the PIE theory and the Praktrits.

ADDENDUM

What’s universal grammar? Evidence rebuts Chomsky’s theory of language learning

 

Sanjeev Sabhlok

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One thought on “Noam Chomsky’s theories are pseudo-science. Linguistics, however, is a deductive discipline worth pursuing.
  1. Unconvinced

    I don’t think your analysis has been entirely correct. I understand that linguistics has become more rigorous as a discipline, and a certain portion of it has become axiomatic: however, this doesn’t imply it isn’t a science. Physics, for example, also has an axiomatic entirely logically deductive branch, and is still universally considered a science.

    Perhaps these are a couple of more helpful definitions of science:

    1) A discipline that follows the scientific method.

    2) A dicipline that makes empirical, falsifiable statements about the real world.

    Under both definitions, linguistics would fall under the term “science”. Whether the axiomatic, deductive portions of linguistics and/or physics fall under the definition are a little more nuanced, but certainly these do not cover the whole discipline. At best, then, your claims regarding linguistics and science need a little more expounding and nuance.

    Secondly, you haven’t provided evidence of your conclusions about Chomsky’s incorrectness. The fact that theories are challenged certainly doesn’t conclude that he was incorrect. If you do have any evidence that his theory of universal grammar is incorrect, it would certainly be enlightening to hear it. The only article linked that was still up (the “Nautilus” article) didn’t actually disagree with UG and generative linguistics, it simply claimed language development was caused by social or cultural interaction. This is a fairly trivial statement, and though the article provided some interesting points regarding the FOXP2 gene not being uniquely dedicated to language generation, it didn’t seem to refute the fact there was a genetic component to linguistics, and it certainly didn’t refute the UG rigorously.

     

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