David asks Evans to provide back-up for his claim that Chomsky (and by implication most other generativists) (here) think that looking at languages other than English is of little value. Evans' claim seems to be based on, ahem, a selective reading of the relevant texts. By 'selective' I mean distorted, seriously distorted. So distorted that it raises the question of bad faith. Don't take my word for this judgment, read the exchange with David.
Two things to note about this exchange:
First, how hard it was to get Evans to specify a source. One might think that criticism should rely on specified sources, preferably with accurate quotation. Evans seem to think that he is exempt from this critical standard as he is writing for a popular audience. Thus, it's ok to rebut other popular accounts (Pinker is Evans' target of choice) rather than criticize the considered judgment of the professional literature (from here):
The Language Myth is written for a general audience—not specifically professional linguists—and takes the form of an evidence-based rebuttal of aspects of the world-view developed in the popular, best-selling books written by Professor Steven Pinker of Harvard University.
This is a bizarre understanding of what popular science consists in. Say that Pinker got things wrong (which I don't actually believe, but Steve can easily take care of himself), then the right way to set things right begins with sympathetically reviewing the basic research in the field and the views of one's targets of criticism This is a precondition for serious criticism. The second requirement is that the criticism be heavily sourced. It's not kosher to put words into other's mouths. The words used to hang someone must be their own. Chomsky is especially careful to quote his sources when he goes after them. He footnotes heavily and quotes extensively. It would be nice if his opponents were as gracious. They invariably are not. Evans is a typical Chomsky critic in this regard.
Second, Note how reluctant Evans is to defend his selective quotation (David Adger's comment is relevant here). This is particularly offensive given that Evan's renderings convey the opposite of what the full quotations clearly assert. Again, this is not unusual for Chomsky criticism. Evans should immediately retract these claims publicly or show how what he says comports with what David observes is the actual content of Chomsky's claims. It is the honorable thing to do. But don't hold your breath waiting for this. The accepted standard of Chomsky criticism absolves critics of undue burdens of accuracy. In fact, just making shit up is the usual way of proceeding. Evans seems to have adopted this standard as his own.
The more Evans writes the clearer it becomes that he does not understand the basic claims of generative grammar, nor is he a very careful reader of the relevant literature (there are nastier interpretations but I won't go there (again)), nor is he overly worried about understanding the positions he is intent on criticizing. This is shoddy work, which, sadly, does not mean that it is without influence. Thanks to David to making doing the heavy lifting in cleaning out this one stall of Evans' Augean stables.
Interesting exchange indeed, thank you for the link. It is hard to believe that someone as familiar with Chomsky's work as Dr. Pesetsky would not know that for virtually everything Chomsky says one can find a quote by Chomsky saying the opposite. But, since there seems to be a genuine need, I am working on a documentation of this outstanding feature of Chomsky's work [not to worry it will be all documented with direct quotes] Which brings me to a question. You claim: "It's not kosher to put words into other's mouths. The words used to hang someone must be their own. Chomsky is especially careful to quote his sources when he goes after them. He footnotes heavily and quotes extensively. It would be nice if his opponents were as gracious."ReplyDelete
Could you be so kind and provide such quotes from Chomsky's recent book "The Science of Language" where he quotes extensively - so his critics can learn how it is done properly? Especially appreciated are quotes regarding the allegedly common theory of language evolution [p. 15], the distortion of Elman's work [p. 226], the crazy theory of Dummett [p. 57], the allegedly irrational scientists referred to on p. 123. If you are unable to find quotes, maybe you could ask Chomsky to "immediately retract these claims publicly or show how what he says comports with ... the actual content of [these and countless other authors'] claims. It is the honorable thing to do".
Thanks, and have a merry Christmas!
Well but, you can't take down Generative Grammar (which appears to be Evans' project) by analysing Chomsky quotes, since the project has now become mostly what people have actually done on the basis of their own interpretation of Chomsky's ideas and those of others inspired by or reacting to him (Lambek, Montague, even Solomonoff). Formal semantics for example is now definitely part of mainstream GG, in spite of the scepticism that C himself has always had towards it (and FS is essentially as far as I can see a Lambek/Montague-based program).ReplyDelete
Now if you could show that the PCC doesn't exist, that Andrews (1982)'s account of agreement with nominative objects in Icelandic was way better than that of Sigurdsson and Holmberg (2008) (Agreement and Person are separate probes), that Agnostopoulou's 2003 work on indirect objects was rubbish and a severe regression from traditional grammar, etc etc, then, you'd be taking down current minimalist GG in a convincing way (but I don't think that any of these projects, nor innumerable similar ones that a different person than me might have suggested, are feasible).
Avery, in case your reply was to me: we are talking about different things. I am objecting to Norbert's claim that "Chomsky is especially careful to quote his sources when he goes after them." and have provided specific examples where he failed to do that. This has nothing to do with Evan's project. It is about Norbert's allegation that Chomsky's critics [which he does not name] fail to live up to the "burden of accuracy" that, allegedly, Chomsky shoulders in his publications and that "In fact, just making shit up is the usual way of proceeding" [for those unnamed critics]. I have asked Norbert to provide the sources for the claims Chomsky makes - seemingly Norbert is unable to do so...Delete