anyway, Chomsky (part II)
If anyone is interested in Evans’ work, and wants to read an incredibly detailed scientific run-down of the case against Universal Grammar, this article is probably the most inflammatory, and it contains commentary from a whole bunch of people, including Chomsky’s biggest mistake, Steven Pinker*:
We had to read this in a linguistics class and then debate both sides of the innatist/cognitivist argument wearing masks of Evans and Levinson, and Chomsky and either Pinker or Jackendorff**, can’t remember which. I had to pitch in for the latter side. It was very difficult and we lost.
But for a really beautiful and fascinating plea for the world’s lesser-known languages to be taken seriously and listened to, Evans’ Dying Words: Endangered Languages and What They Have to Tell Us is a treat, and is extremely accessibly-written. If anyone wants to talk about the political consequences of such thinking about language (especially the issue of multilingualism), I’m all ears.
One thing though: Chomsky’s body of linguistic theory is far from only Universal Grammar. To his credit, he came up with all the standard tools for linguistic description (particularly in syntax), without which most of the important work on lesser-known languages could not be carried out at all.
* I fucking hate Pinker. Chomsky’s politics might be boring, unoriginal and blunt, but Pinker’s are boring, unoriginal, and absolutely positively fucking reprehensible. I think maybe my second and third posts ever were about how people who like him are sexist, racist dicks.
** Not as much of a dick as Pinker, so far as I’m aware.