A few key takeaways from Chapter 2 on “Linguistics and the Human Sciences.”
Chomsky thinks of linguistics as part of psychology and not as a separate discipline (46). The term psychology is often defined as the study of the acquisition or utilization of language, whereas linguistics is the study of language (grammar, dialect), but Chomsky rejects these definitions because how does a person use something without understanding it (46)?
Linguistic competence is defined as the “knowledge internalized by a speaker of a language, which, once learned and possessed, unconsciously permits him to understand and produce an infinite number of new sentences” (51). Generative grammar is the theory that explains linguistic competence (51).
According to Chomsky, psychology is stuck on “empiricist doctrines” or rely on the senses through experimentation (53). Chomsky makes an interesting comparison between grammar and vision, which some things are set by genetics (perception of lines, binocular vision, frequency of sounds) and other things are set by unclear factors (face recognition) (54). It appears that Chomsky is acknowledging the role of nature and nurture.
Next, Chomsky explains the existence of disciplines. Sociology and literary criticism lack generalizations that work as “explanatory principles,” whereas the natural sciences are based on finding ways to account for phenomena, according to Chomsky (59). He also suggests that limiting the scope of study is self-evident in the natural sciences, and limiting the scope of study in linguistics is both challenging and nessesary to create interesting conclusions (60). To me, it seems like Chomsky is defining the differences between a traditional college and university education in Canada: college tells the student the nature of reality, whereas university tells the student to question the nature of reality.
Finally, Chomsky defines two definitions of “interesting,” the latter being most important from a standpoint of an intellectual progression (61):
- The phenomena itself: a novel, a bird in flight, the colour of a rock when compared to other rocks (61)
- The principles and explanations that relate to the phenomena: generative grammar, string theory (61)
You can also collect butterflies [in response to linking social class/sociology to dialects/linguistics] and make many observations. If you like butterflies, that’s fine; but such work must not be confounded with research, which is concerned to discover explanatory principals of some depth and fails if it does not do so.(Chomsky, 60)
In addition, things become interesting not for the commonalities, but for their differences (61). Chomsky seems to be placing more value on quality theories that explain reality over studies that do not advance the human intellect.
Chomsky, Noam. Language and Responsibility. The New Press, 7 Feb. 2017. www.amazon.ca/Language-Chomskys-Classic-Responsibility-Reflections-ebook/dp/B006PHUC50/ref=sr_1_1?crid=14YLXJ4LSAH79&dchild=1&keywords=language+and+responsibility&qid=1609273548&sprefix=language+and+re%2Caps%2C185&sr=8-