My apologies to those of you who either subscribe to Chomskyan linguistics or aren’t interested in it, but I still bear the scars of attempted brainwashing from my time in grad school four decades ago, and I can never get enough of attacks on the Great Man and his Theory (or, more accurately, Theories). Herewith, for those who are interested, Christina Behme and Vyvyan Evans, “Leaving the myth behind: A reply to Adger (2015)” (pdf), a satisfying response to Adger’s defense of Chomsky against Evans’s The Language Myth (a book I’ll have to get hold of some time) and article “There Is No Language Instinct.” Here’s the concluding paragraph; click through for the detailed discussion:
Minimalists have directed harsh criticism at The Language Myth and There is no language instinct, but little of this criticism seems to concern substantial issues. Alleged misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the Chomskyan commitment and the Chomskyan framework are in large degree due to the imprecise and, at times, inconsistent formulation of its basic assumptions. Chomskyans refer informally to language as an instinct, do not use key terms (e.g. I-language) consistently, do not provide precise definitions of important concepts (e.g. ‘innate’, ’language organ’, Universal Grammar), and they regularly conflate the meanings of ‘recursion’ Adger wishes to keep separate. Given that most of The Language Myth has been ignored by Adger, he is no position to judge whether it makes a valuable contribution or should be dismissed. And he has given little reason to think that the minimalist research program can shed light on there being “new exciting challenges to be addressed about how language is implemented in the brain, how what we know about language structure can improve statistical translation techniques, how language interacts with other systems in our minds and how it’s put to use in situations of social complexity” (Adger, 2015: 80). Adger seems to believe that generative grammarians continue to play the central role in syntactic research, and that they ought to shape the agenda of a larger, multidisciplinary research community. Yet, as Chomsky pointed out decades ago: “this framework is only taken seriously by a tiny minority in the field … it does not represent a major tendency within the field in statistical terms” (Chomsky, 1982: 41). It is arguable whether this evaluation was accurate in 1982. But, Chomsky could have hardly offered a better prediction for that state of the field in 2015. Anyone who wishes to defend the Chomskyan framework ought to move beyond the fruitless quarrelling that has distracted so much attention from the real issues, and address the following questions: [i] what are the specific theories Chomskyans are currently committed to, [ii] which concrete findings from developmental psychology and neurobiology support the Chomskyan framework, and [iii] how can the Chomskyan paradigm overcome the familiar, long standing challenges stated in the technical literature, including those by other
generativists (e.g. Culicover and Jackendoff, 2005; Jackendoff, 2011; Seuren, 2004).