john at john at
Mon Oct 25 08:44:05 UTC 2010

(1) Chomsky's descriptive observations about nominalizations were not at all
original--Jespersen made the same observations.
(2) The observations about island constraints were from Haj Ross' thesis.
(3) The competence/performance distinction is basically Saussure's
(4) At Penn (where I studied) it was commonly acknowledged that the idea
of generative grammar was lifted from Zelig Harris (Chomsky's mentor there),
although I'm not sure that I believe this.

Quoting Richard Hudson <dick at>:

> Thanks Aya, Alex and Mark for your views. It's very odd for me to be
> defending Chomsky, since I've spent most of my life criticising him, but
> he's an ordinary human being just like the rest of us, with good points
> and bad points. When I said he couldn't be all wrong, I actually meant
> he wasn't all wrong - I can easily think of plenty of things that he did
> that were right, and inspired good work.
> My personal list of achievements by Chomsky:
> - His 1970 article on nominalisation, with its clear distinction between
> gerunds and nominalisations.
> - His insights into the structure of the English auxiliary system (but
> not his morpheme-based analysis).
> - His observations on island constraints in syntax - but not his
> conclusions.
> - His contrast between knowledge (competence) and behaviour
> (performance) - but not his catch-all use of 'performance'.
> - His idea of formal 'generative' grammar - but not his later
> abandonment of the substance.
> I dare say I could add some more if I thought a bit longer. These are
> all things that he did which influenced my own (generally non-Chomskyan)
> work, and which I know have influenced plenty of other non-Chomskyans.
> And I don't agree that the whole field is so dominated by his doctrines
> that other views can't be heard - just think of all the books and
> articles and university departments oriented towards other approaches,
> from non-Chomskyan formal theories such as HPSG and LFG, to
> non-Chomskyan informal work on discourse and the like. I'm sure some
> people on this list both disagree with Chomsky and have tenure.
> Dick Hudson
> --
> Richard Hudson

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