Faking a Related Language.

A reader sent me the Reddit link What is the “If you speak French, just add ‘a’ and ‘o’ at the end of every words and you speak Spanish” of your language?, pointing out that it’s related to John Cowan’s Essentialist Explanations but not the same thing, adding:

From the link, no clue if any of these are accurate:
“If you speak Norwegian, just add “ur” at the end of words and you speak Icelandic.”
“Slovene – add ‘o’ at the end of every word. Macedonian – add ‘ta’ at the end of every word. Croatian – add j’s between every other letter.”
“If you speak Latvian, just add -as after every word and voila – you speak Lithuanian.”
“If you replace o with i, i with y and l with v, you can turn Russian into Ukrainian.”
“If you speak Standard Bulgarian, adopt a Macedonian Bulgarian dialect, and you more or less speak Standardized Vardar Macedonian.”
If you speak Bulgarian, remove definite articles, adopt a pretentious tone, place the stress on the first syllable, and you speak Serbian.”

Whatever the accuracy level, it can be quite amusing (the top entry at the moment: “Swiss German: Speak German as if you’re a cat with a fur ball stuck in its throat”), so enjoy. (Thanks, Ryan!)

Comments

  1. Years ago an Italian friend told me she was taking courses in Spanish, and my first thought was “Why on Earth would those classes even exist?”. She then told me that she was finding them difficult. I was baffled.

    Now that I’m older and slightly wiser, I realize that I was confusing the two languages’ lexical similarity with, well, all the other little things aside from word definitions that you are supposed to learn in a language course.

  2. Reminds me this quote from the ‘Turkish Gambit’:

    You’re a strong, grown-up woman, not some prim young lady. You have to tell them you’re Russian and you’re travelling to join your fiance in the army. We are the liberators of Bulgaria-, everyone here is glad to see us. And then, speaking Bulgarian is so easy: you just have to add ‘ta’ to everything. Russian armyta. Fianceta. Fianceta of Russian soldierta. Or something of the sort.

  3. marie-lucie says:

    Learning a related language

    Spanish to Italian, etc: It can be psychologically harder than learning an unknown language, precisely because one expects correspondences and regularities and one is baffled by differences.

  4. one expects correspondences and regularities and one is baffled by differences.

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/hallitus

  5. Wow, just imagine the possibilities for bilingual Finnish/Estonian political cartoons.

  6. Stu Clayton says:

    My father actually did have the habit of turning English into Spanish in this way, by adding “o”s and “a”s to nouns. He was a radiologist at a hospital in El Paso that saw a lot of Mexican patients with no English. He came from Mississippi and knew no Spanish. I used to laugh at him for the “o”s and “a”s, but now I feel he deserved at least a B for trying.

  7. Welsh speakers tend to think they can turn Welsh into Breton by making every Welsh ‘dd’ (voiced dental fricative, ð) and ‘th’ into z, speak with French ‘r’ and maybe Middle Welsh (middle ages) Welsh sentence contruction.

    Welsh, heddiw (today) = hiziv
    llaeth (milk) = laez
    amser (time) = amzer

  8. Years ago an Italian friend told me she was taking courses in Spanish, and my first thought was “Why on Earth would those classes even exist?”.

    I’ve probably told this story before, but when we lived in Buenos Aires in the ’60s we had a plumber who had come from Italy many years before, forgotten most of his Italian, and picked up Spanish very imperfectly, so that he spoke a mangled language that I was the only one in the family who could (mostly) understand.

  9. Ha. “He’s been made a mold in the new mold.”

  10. marie-lucie says:

    LH: I speak Spanish fluently (not perfectly but can converse easily) from being around Latin Americans at some periods of my life and have learned a lot of vocabulary and sentence structure from reading. I don’t really speak Italian (can manage with a phrase book) but can read it quite well with help from my knowledge of French and Latin (my Latin otherwise almost forgotten). I find the Italian verbs more complex than the Spanish ones, and much closer to the Latin ones. Apart from the indicative present and imperfect of verbs in -ar(e), many verb forms would be an obstacle to “picking up” either language knowing only the other one. I would think that the Italian-Argentinian plumber found Spanish verbs hard to manage even though they are somewhat simpler than the Italian ones. (Plus, this man may have spoken an Italian dialect not generally known among other Italian immigrants, restricting his opportunities to maintain his native speech).

  11. Years ago an Italian friend deadpanned that he could “parlé fransé com se nien fus.” Still cracks me up.

  12. “If you speak Danish, just replace schwa with ‘a’ and you are speaking Swedish.”

    And then spend 10 years learning the other differences.

  13. Ken Miner says:

    Since no one has mentioned it: If you know Portuguese just read it as written and you are speaking Spanish. Also: if you know Danish, just read it as written and you are speaking Norwegian. (There must be a lot of those situations.)

    BTW: I am looking for the person who created “Portugoose”” as singular of “Portuguese”. If anyone knows…

  14. Etienne says:

    This sort of claim goes back to the Middle Ages: I remember a Medieval Italian (possibly Venetian?) text which claimed that, to speak (Old) French, you simply had to speak like a young (Italophone) child.

    I have wondered whether part of this claim involved the mismatch between Medieval French and Medieval Italian with regards to basic inflections, on the one hand, and the considerable volume of shared vocabulary, on the other.

    That is to say, francophones and italophones (back in the Middle Ages, so in what follows “French” and “Italian” mean “Old French” and “Old Italian”) trying to communicate would quickly find that they shared words, especially upon perceiving some of the regularities (this is back in the days when French final consonants and vowel clusters were fully realized), i.e. Italian initial /ka/ and /ga/ correspond to French /tʃə/ and /dʒə/, respectively, Italian intervocalic non-labial stops typically correspond to French zero, geminates to simple stops, final vowels (other than /a/) to zero, and so on…I suspect the situation between French and Italian in the Middle Ages would have been very similar to that between present-day Danish on the one hand and Norwegian or Swedish on the other, with Danish, like French, showing radical phonological reduction, but which is still regular enough to be detectable by ordinary speakers (unlike the situation of French and Italian today).

    But there would be no such ease in finding morphological correspondences between French and Italian: the singular zero versus plural /s/ of French nouns and adjectives is unlike the Italian vowel alternations (masculine singular /o/, plural /i/, feminine singular /a/, plural /e/): if italophones were in contact with varieties of French which still made use of the two-case declension the whole system would have seemed chaotic and incomprehensible to them, and thus they may have concluded that speaking “French” meant using distorted Italian-like words without grammatical suffixes -i.e. speaking like a young child acquiring Italian as an L1.

    Things would not have been much better in verb morphology: Italian /kanta/ “he sings” does correspond to French /tʃantə/, phonologically, for instance, but the Italian imperfect /kantava/ and the French imperfect /tʃantojt/ have very dissimilar endings: the same can be said of the Italian preterite /kanto/ versus its Old French equivalent /tʃantat/. Again, Italian speakers perceiving the similarities between French and Italian verbs may have found the endings too unlike their own, and this may have strengthened the perception that French is a language with strange Italian-like vocabulary and no systematic morphology.

    Of course, the fact that the most common French grammatical morphemes involve final /s/, /t/, /nt/ and /ts/, all of which are phonotactically impossible in Italian, cannot have helped either: an Italian hearing /tʃantə/, /tʃantəs/ and /tʃantənt/ (“he/she sings, you(sg.) sing, they sing”, respectively) might have perceived all three as /tʃantə/. The same problem would arise with noun morphology (dominated by final /s/), thereby strengthening the overall perception that French is uninflected, i.e. child-like, Italian.

  15. In the EE there’s an entry for Afrikaans that says it is child-Dutch, which I am sure reflects its lack of person-number marking: ik is, jy is, hy is vs. Dutch ik ben, jij ben, hij is ‘I am, thou art, he is. (The y vs. ij is merely orthographic.)

    I will merge stuff from this thread and the Reddit thread into the next EE edition, whenever that comes out: “Old French is essentially Old Italian spoken by a child”, e.g.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    Since no one has mentioned it: If you know Portuguese just read it as written and you are speaking Spanish. Also: if you know Danish, just read it as written and you are speaking Norwegian. (There must be a lot of those situations.)

    Also diachronic ones: read modern English as written (except for the pseudo-etymological spellings), sprinkle some verb morphology over it, et voilà, Middle English. Similarly Tibetan (where the defunct verb morphology is still written!), Burmese, Thai, Mongolian-in-the-Mongolian-script…

  17. David Marjanović says:

    From the Reddit thread:

    This link to the best take on rødgrød med fløde ever.

    This dialog:

    “Speak Turkish VERY sarcastically and you have Gagauz-Qırımtatar”
    “Why does Crimean Tatar sound sarcastic?”
    “Because if I suddenly switched to Crimean Tatar while speaking Turkish, the person that I’m speaking to would get angry; they would not realize I switched languages in the middle of our conversation.”

    And this:

    “Jo parlo trea bieno espagnola.”

  18. marie-lucie says:

    “Jo parlo trea bieno espagnola.”

    That would sound Esperanto to me (obviously I don’t speak the language).

  19. Marja Erwin says:

    Vandalic is merely Italian Gothic, keeping the old endings, using gw for w, using ei for ai, and written in the Italian alphabet.

  20. This comment thread is pretty Indo-European centric, so let me point out that Javanese is really Malay, where /a/ is replaced with /ɔ/, with a generous sprinkling of the particle /tɔ/.

  21. where /a/ is replaced with /ɔ/

    So that means Javanese is the Bengali of Indonesia.

  22. David Marjanović says:

    Javanese is really Malay, where

    all words are tripled for three Japanese-style politeness levels.

  23. when they set up the Stormont assembly the working language was English but then the nationalists said what about Irish, eh? so they agreed to translate everything into Irish and then the unionists said how come they get a special language? we want a special language too! and they said well which one? you all speak English and the unionists said Ulster Scots! all official documents must be published in Ulster Scots! but they couldn’t find anyone who consciously spoke it and eventually just got a guy who transcribed everything in the way he thought Ian Paisley would say it and everyone was happy.

  24. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I am looking for the person who created “Portugoose”” as singular of “Portuguese”. If anyone knows…

    I don’t know, but it’s not recent. I first encountered it in an early 20th century novel — maybe John Buchan’s Prester John.

    Yes, here it is: “But my fingers itched to get at the Portugoose — that double-dyed traitor to his race. As I thought of my kindly old friends, lying butchered with their kinsfolk out in the bush, hot tears of rage came to my eyes. Perfect love casteth out fear, the Bible says; but, to speak it reverently, so does perfect hate.”

  25. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    when they set up the Stormont assembly the working language was English but then the nationalists said what about Irish, eh? so they agreed to translate everything into Irish and then the unionists said how come they get a special language?

    In the 1950s my father worked for a company in Manchester that bought carrageen moss from a company with its head office in Dublin. They once received a letter that was all in English except for the letterhead, which was in Irish. As it happened there was someone in the office who could write Irish, so they got him to draft a reply in Irish. A little while later they got a sheepish reply from Dublin asking for an English translation, as no one there could read Irish. I wonder how many of the nationalists at Stormont could understand Irish (other than fixed expressions like Sinn Féin, which even I can translate).

  26. Buchan seems to have been fond of it; he used it 21 times in that book (according to Google Books search). But it goes back well before him; J. L. Parsons, in “The Progress of the Northern Territory” (The Centennial Magazine: An Australian Monthly, Volume 1 [1888], p. 593) writes:

    There are, it is said, in some archive room in Lisbon, maps, journals, records which prove that the “Portugoose” (as they irreverently term him in the Far East) was the first navigator whose vessels’ keels disturbed these virgin seas, and whose countrymen were the first to land on these—for the most part—monotonous and mangrove shores.

    And The Private Journal of F. S. Larpent …: During the Peninsular War (p. 27, 1853 ed., entry dated Feb. 28, 1814) has “I must now prepare to ‘romper de march,’ as Jack Portugoose calls it.”

  27. Heh, and the Americans, slow on the uptake as usual, thought of it as a knee-slapper in 1891 (Educational News, Vol. 7, p. 92):

    “Mamma,” said a little girl whose thirst for information has several times proved embarrassing, “does ‘Portuguese’ mean all the people in Portugal?” “The word may be used in that way.” “Well, mamma, if you mean only one of them do you say Portugoose?”

  28. Etienne says:

    Since “Portugoose/Portuguese” was created on the analogy of “goose/geese”, I must ask: are there varieties of English which realize “Portuguese” with final /s/ or “goose/geese” with final /z/? Or did the analogy apply even when the two words were realized with different consonants (/z/ versus /s/)?

    The existence of a non-standard singular “Portuguee”, as a back-formation from “Portuguese”, whose final consonant was analyzed as a plural marker, makes things even more interesting: is there any sort of divide (geographical? social?) between those English speaker whose morphological division of “Portuguese” was “Portuguee” + pluralizer versus the ones who divided the word as a cranberry morph “Portu” + “geese”?

  29. are there varieties of English which realize “Portuguese” with final /s/

    Yes, I have heard -ese endings so realized (though I can’t swear to that particular one).

  30. J.W. Brewer says:

    I think distinctions like those between /s/ and /z/ are minor enough that they can get elided for the sake of a joke, pun, or other wordplay. That the word on one side of the joke/pun is spelled with an “s” even though typically pronounced with /z/ might make that elision even easier? For all I know that there’s some scholarly literature out there on just how wide v narrow a phonetic gap can be subconsciously bridged or resolved by the hearer of the joke/pun before puzzlement rather than amusement will result.

  31. J.W. Brewer says:

    As to “Portugee,” the archaic-and-now-offensive “Chinee” as a de facto singular of “Chinese” suggests a possibly once-productive pattern of backformation?

  32. Yvy tyvy says:

    If you know Portuguese just read it as written and you are speaking Spanish.

    coughgaliciancough

  33. January First-of-May says:

    And then, speaking Bulgarian is so easy: you just have to add ‘ta’ to everything. Russian armyta. Fianceta. Fianceta of Russian soldierta. Or something of the sort.

    This isn’t actually that ridiculous if you’re starting from Russian. Bulgarian and Russian share a lot of lexical similarity – more so than should be expected on relation alone, due to the sheer amount of OCS loans in Russian – but Bulgarian nouns don’t decline, and usually feature a postpositional definite article.
    As it happens, the feminine form of said definite article is, in fact, ta, and the words translated as “army” and “fiance” are both feminine. (The neuter form is to, the plural is te, and I forgot what the masculine is.)

    Actually, the original quote from Turkish Gambit gave the last “Bulgarian” phrase as (the equivalent of) “brideta on Russian soldier” (in the original Russian, nevestata na russkiy soldat), which is, IIRC, actual correct Bulgarian grammar (as far as I know, at least), and might even be correct Bulgarian spelling/pronunciation (well, with a Russian accent, anyway).

    Since no one has mentioned it: If you know Portuguese just read it as written and you are speaking Spanish.

    This sadly did not help Monsieur Paganel, who infamously tried to learn Spanish from what turned out to be a Portuguese novel.

    (My headcanon: he just had too much of a French accent.)

  34. the archaic-and-now-offensive “Chinee” as a de facto singular of “Chinese” suggests a possibly once-productive pattern of backformation?

    Or possibly a borrowing from Hindi. Similarly also “Japanee” for Japanese.

    Are there any occurrences of “Maltee”, “Burmee”, “Lebanee”?

  35. due to the sheer amount of OCS loans in Russian

    Also to the large number of later Russian loans in Bulgarian. Consider ‘lion’-related words (the lion is the Bulgarian totem animal). Russian lev is a Church Slavonic loan that has entirely displaced native lyov, except for the diminutive form Lyova for someone named Lev (in English translations of Tolstoy published in his lifetime his name was given as Lyoff). In Bulgarian, the regular form ləv prevails for ‘lion’, but lev, borrowed back from Russian, is the name of Bulgaria’s currency.

    (ObHat: Totem is of Algonquian origin, meaning ‘mark’; the first /t/ may be from a preceding possessive pronoun.)

    I forgot what the masculine [Bulgarian article] is

    It’s complicated. The basic written form of the masculine article is ət, but the complications resulting from compromises between dialects as well as past writing traditions are astounding. Note in what follows that Bulgarian doesn’t normally have vowel reduction: an /a/ is an [a], an /o/ is an [o], and a /ə/ is a [ə], stressed or unstressed. (“If Persian is the Italian of the East, Bulgarian is the Italian of the Middle.”)

    There is no longer any distinction in Bulgarian between soft consonants and the corresponding hard consonant followed by /j/, and in particular all final soft consonants are pronounced hard. But when a vowel follows, the softness is restored, so -ət is written jat when a soft consonant used to precede it. Thus Bulgarians write uchiteljat ‘the teacher’ because the agentive suffix -tel used to be soft, but xotelət ‘the hotel’ because there is no suffix here.

    Similarly tsar ‘king’ when definite is written tsarjat rather than tsarət. Why not tsarjət? Because ə is written with the hard sign, and a soft sign in front of a hard sign is unacceptable. In any case, the soft sign is now used only when a palatalized consonant is followed by /o/.

    Although it’s true that Bulgarian lacks morphological case (except for the marginal vocative), the entirely artificial convention was adopted, for masculine nouns ending in a consonant only, of writing -ət/jat only when the noun is the subject of its clause and -a/-ja, pronounced /ə/, otherwise. Why not write rather than -a? Because a final hard sign was traditionally silent, as in pre-1918 Russian; it is written with an accent on it in Turkish loans where it represents .

    Otherwise, all nouns in -a/-ja, as well as feminine nouns ending in a consonant, take -ta; all nouns in -e and all plurals not ending in -a/-ja take -te; and nouns in -o take -to. Essentially the written vowel echoes the preceding vowel.

    Fortunately, the spoken language is simpler: all these vowels are /ə/ in the standard accent regardless of spelling, and the particular vowel tells you only whether to palatalize the preceding consonant or not. Furthermore, final /-t/ is often dropped in speech, making the nominative and non-nominative articles indistinguishable.

  36. Yvy tyvy says:

    an /o/ is an [o]

    I was under the impression it could also be realized as [u].

  37. There is some raising/centralization of unstressed low vowels, but not so much as to cause an actual merger. Per contra, when stressed, /e/ and /o/ move down toward [ɛ] and [ɔ].

    I should have also mentioned that when a masculine noun ends in /Vj/, the letter j (i-kratkoe) is dropped and replaced by the article in the form jat/ja.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    a /ə/ is a [ə], stressed or unstressed

    I’ve read a few times that it’s [ɤ] or thereabouts when stressed (or am I confusing it with Albanian…?) and [ɐ] when unstressed.

  39. See my note above.

  40. David Marjanović says:

    What do you mean?

  41. Sorry. I was talking about raising/centralization under lack of stress, but this is plainly lowering. I think perhaps “laxing” would be a better term for what happens in Bulgarian. In any case, it is nothing like the mergers that happen in Russian akanye and ikanye: there are six distinct unstressed vowels in Bulgarian, whatever their precise phonetic tokens.

  42. David Marjanović says:

    “Can someone just………………. explain French to me?”

    “its spanish but you speak it in cursive”

    “You have 11 letters. You pronounce 4 of them.”

    “Learn to speak spanish. Now learn to speak italian. Now subtract the spanish from italian. You are left with french.”

    “Latin, but then make it fashion”

  43. More EE-bait.

  44. David Marjanović says:

    Don’t forget Portuguese sounding like a drink Russian who’s getting strangled trying to speak Spanish.” Also, further insights into the true nature of Danish.

  45. I love the moderators’ slogan: “We govern by the principles, you are bound by the parameters.”

  46. David Marjanović says:

    People have wondered if Chomsky was afflicted with patriarchy and/or BDSM when he came up with his technical terms.

  47. marie-lucie says:

    I was struck by the contrast between Chomsky’s politics and his use of terms – “constraints” and others which suggest that languages need to be prevented from working in certain ways, rather than cleverly use the possibilities inherent in their structure.

  48. Lars (the original one) says:

    true nature of Danish — invidious lies. You cannot even start to approach the subtlety and innate but thoroughly obscured beauty of Danish through those deviant chimeras that nearby states claim as languages.

  49. Why did Chomsky’s model of linguistics change?

    (As I told the person who sent me the link, I don’t believe the theory for a minute, but the analysis is fun.)

  50. Bathrobe says:

    I always understood transformations as a way of overcoming the rigidness of structuralist approaches, especially the ‘word-class’ approach based on ‘distributions’ and ‘slots’ (which was clearly a push-back against the influence of parts of speech in traditional Latin-based grammars).

    Chomsky’s breakout book, Syntactic Structures, showed that a structuralist approach can’t even capture the simple notion of an active/passive duality. So he used transformations to show the relationship. But transformations proved too alluring. You can do anything you want with transformations. Just about anything at all. Generative semanticists took off with that one and went wild with it.

    My own understanding is that that is why Chomsky tried to “constrain” transformations. If you can generate anything you want with them, they become nothing more than a game. That’s probably also why he eventually abandoned them. And rather than doing work with real languages, he kept pursuing his passion for “models”.

    I hadn’t realised that “transformations” weren’t Chomsky’s idea. That honour goes to Zellig Harris.

    The differences between Zellig’s transformations and Chomsky’s are covered at Wikipedia (Zellig Harris: Transformational structure in language). The whole thing might be worthy of deeper research, but life is short. Zellig’s ideas look more interesting, if only because they appear to be grounded in reality.

    Following links from that article (the one Hat linked to), I also found that Zellig Harris was also a political thinker. He wrote a book called The Transformation of Capitalist Society.

  51. I hadn’t realised that “transformations” weren’t Chomsky’s idea. That honour goes to Zellig Harris.

    That’s one of the first things I learned, since my college linguistics teacher despised Chomsky and told me “He got it all from Zellig Harris!”

  52. Bathrobe says:

    It looks like I knew at one time but forgot.

    Zellig’s transformations seem pretty different from Chomsky’s.

    Quoting from Zellig Harris’s theory of syntax and linguistic reflexivity — Philippe De Brabanter:

    Zellig’s transformations are essentially ‘reductions‘ (including ‘zeroings‘ of certain elements).
    ….
    In Harris‘s scheme, reductions, which are defined as changes [i.e. alterations of the sound shape] in word occurrences, not recastings of the whole sentence, affect word forms, not abstract structures.
    ….
    Base sentences are those whose operators (there may be just one) are overtly accompanied by their requisite arguments. Reduced sentences are those where the combinations between operators and arguments are not entirely explicit. This means that Kenneth eats rubbish is a base sentence, whereas Maud was eating is not: its Object-NP, though reconstructible, is not present.
    ….
    (In the reduced set) the criterion for grammaticality is the existence of a path (an ordered sequence of transformations) that leads from the reduced sentence back to a grammatical source sentence in the base.

    End of quote.

    Since Chomsky’s transformations manipulate whole tree diagrams, with no requirement that you can trace back to the original deep structure, it’s no wonder they got out of hand.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    About the early years of Chomsky’s career, there is an article by the German scholar E.E.K. Koerner (I forget the date, probably the 1970’s, but it should be findable on Google) debunking Chomsky’s own presentation of himself as a lonely and misunderstood scholar while he was warmly supported by Zellig Harris and others and given every opportunity to shine, much more so than would have been common with other students.

    In general, one major flaw in Chomskyan linguistics is that it started from a description of English (Syntactic Structures is indeed a very nice work) and assumed that the structure of English could be generalized to all other human languages (just as many earlier scholars had assumed that the structure of Latin could be so generalized). So any efforts to make the theory more universal often required contortions.

    About the striking reversals every few years, I am not sure about the interpretation that Chomsky wanted to make his models “unusable”. It is perhaps more likely that as his graduate students were eagerly using each current model to show its improved usefulness for descriptions of various languages, and running into problems for which they sometimes suggested improvements, Chomsky could not accept such inputs and would propose drastic changes of his own, leading to a new cycle. Meanwhile students who had graduated and taken up academic positions might go on with the model they had learned, which was now obsolete, and the more creative among them would give up and propose their own models. Et cetera, et cetera…

  54. Bathrobe says:

    So the endless cycles will only come to an end when he dies. What will happen to the whole project then?

    Chomsky hasn’t proved a very good leader (he keeps changing his theories), but what will happen to his multiple legacies without a leader? Which of his many theories will be definitive/authoritative? Will they gradually sink into oblivion or will they continue to dodder along?

  55. My take on Chomsky and his followers is a bit like this, except for the humor:

    HAMLET: Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?
    POLONIUS: By th’ mass, and ’tis like a camel indeed.
    HAMLET: Methinks it is like a weasel.
    POLONIUS: It is backed like a weasel.
    HAMLET: Or like a whale.
    POLONIUS: Very like a whale.

  56. Scientists do change their theories when new facts appear; you can’t blame Chomsky for that.

  57. David Marjanović says:

    Chomsky hasn’t proved a very good leader (he keeps changing his theories), but what will happen to his multiple legacies without a leader? Which of his many theories will be definitive/authoritative? Will they gradually sink into oblivion or will they continue to dodder along?

    I think you’re taking the cult-leader analogy too far.

  58. Bathrobe says:

    ‘Scientists do change their theories when new facts appear; you can’t blame Chomsky for that.’ ‘I think you’re taking the cult-leader analogy too far.’

    To quote the Wikipedia article on the Minimalist Program:

    Lappin et al. argue that the minimalist program is a radical departure from earlier Chomskyan linguistic practice that is not motivated by any new empirical discoveries, but rather by a general appeal to perfection, which is both empirically unmotivated and so vague as to be unfalsifiable. They compare the adoption of this paradigm by linguistic researchers to other historical paradigm shifts in natural sciences and conclude that of the minimalist program has been an “unscientific revolution”, driven primarily by Chomsky’s authority in linguistics.

    At least some people feel that Chomsky’s continued theoretical changes aren’t responses to ‘new facts’ and that many people are only going along because he has authority in linguistics. As m-l said, “students who had graduated and taken up academic positions might go on with the model they had learned, which was now obsolete, and the more creative among them would give up and propose their own models.” What happens when the merry-go-round stops? This is seriously worth thinking about.

  59. Scientists do change their theories when new facts appear; you can’t blame Chomsky for that.

    New facts in the English language? Which, pray tell? I presume Chomsky isn’t redoing his theories to take account of the latest twists used by Kids Today. As will surprise no one, I agree with Y and Bathrobe.

  60. Bathrobe says:

    Before I found Koerner’s 1970s paper I ran across a long paper he did much more recently, LINGUISTICS AND REVOLUTION WITH PARTICULAR REFERENCE TO THE ‘CHOMSKYAN REVOLUTION’. This is a long, beautifully written, and extremely interesting paper that is to a large extent devoted to rebutting what Koerner sees as Frederick Newmeyer’s one-sided presentation (particularly in Linguistic Theory in America: The First Quarter century of Transformational Generative Grammar) of the Chomskyan camp’s history of the ‘revolution’ it effected.

    He cites a wonderful exchange between Paul Postal and Paul Garvin at the 1962 debate on “The advantages and disadvantages of transformation grammar” held in the framework of the 13th Annual Round Table Meeting at Georgetown University:

    MR. GARVIN: I would disagree for one very serious reason. One way of verifying the validity of a theory is by writing a recognition routine based on this allegedly correct, and allegedly only correct grammar, and then by seeing whether it indeed does “recognize”. I deliberately mentioned the Washington Post and Times Herald, because to a large number of speakers of English, it contains grammatical sentences.

    MR. POSTAL: Most of the sentences would not be sentences at all.

    MR. GARVIN: What a preposterous claim! On behalf of the Washington Post I protest! This is a very common brand of English.

    MR. POSTAL: I would say it is a very common brand of non-English, that is, not complete English sentences.

    MR. GARVIN: Then, of course, you are in the marvellous position where whenever you can’t analyze something you simply say, “this is not English.”

  61. Beautiful.

  62. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe, Thank you for linking to Koerner’s article. The earlier, shorter one that I referred to was more specifically focused on Newmeyer’s book, an almost hagiographic tale of Chomsky’s rise.

  63. David Marjanović says:

    MR. POSTAL: I would say it is a very common brand of non-English, that is, not complete English sentences.

    what

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