30th July 2015
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.