Esmat Babaii ebabaii at
Mon Oct 25 09:24:17 UTC 2010

Hi John,

Until a couple of years ago, Chomsky had been idolized in our
linguistics departments that it would be a professional suicide if
someone criticized his works, something like Andersen’s “Emperor’ New
Suits” story!  Interesting to read your comments.


On 10/25/10, john at <john at> wrote:
> Dick,
> (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
> langue/parole.
> (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.
> John
> 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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