Thursday, January 8, 2015

Quotational dyslexia: Thank you Masked Man

One of the dilemmas in dealing with really bad stuff is trying to figure out whether the gross misunderstanding is a product of ignorance or malice.  This is a particularly difficult decision to make in   the case of Vyvyan Evans' oeuvre as the work is both deeply misinformed (as I and others have argued in detail see here, here, here, here, here) and, apparently, very dishonest.

How is it dishonest? Well, it seem that Evans has a very difficult time quoting accurately. In fact, his quoting habits seem to regularly transmute the claims being made into their exact opposite. This is demonstrated in detail in an anonymous comment on Evans' blog (here). I quote in full:

It's very peculiar this war of quotations, as if science worked by quotes. But be that as it may, your quotes are not real.
Evans purporting to quote Chomsky wrote:

"A plausible assumption is that the principles of language are fixed and innate" [Chomsky 2000: 122]. Chomsky then says: "For example, evidence from Japanese can be used (and commonly is used) for the study of English; quite rationally, on the well-supported empirical assumption that the languages are modifications of the same initial state" [Chomsky 2000: 102, New Horizons in the Study of Language].

I commend you for giving page numbers, but have noticed that the quote that you introduce with "Chomsky then says" has a page number earlier than the quote that precedes it? This is a frankenquote that you concocted to suit your polemical purpose. And if you actually go back and read what Chomsky wrote, once again, as in the famous Facebook thread, it turns out he said the exact opposite of what you attribute to him. This is clear, for example, by simply reading the sentences that precede your second quote "For example, evidence from Japanese can be used (and commonly is used) for the study of English; quite rationally, on the well-supported empirical assumption that the languages are modifications of the same initial state":
Chomsky actually wrote:
"Only if we keep to the radical translation paradigm or some other arbitrary constraint is evidence restricted to the use of sentences by the speaker (or some selected community). Approaching the topic as in the sciences, we will look for all sorts of evidence. For example, evidence from Japanese can be used (and commonly is used) for the study of English; quite rationally, on the well-supported empirical assumption that the languages are modifications of the same initial state.
Does this sound like a claim "that Universal Grammar can be investigated, in principle, by study of just a single language" (your words)? I don't think so, and I don't think anyone who bothers to read the text could think so. It is in fact part of an argument against the philosopher Quine, and an argument specifically in favor of using all sorts of evidence from multiple sources.
The quote that you place first comes from a totally different chapter on a different topic. You included the little bit that reads "a plausible assumption is that the principles of language are fixed and innate", as supposed support for your claim that Chomsky thinks we can study just one language. But let's look at the actual context, which is all about the lessons we could only have learned by studying multiple languages in detail. Yes, he begins with your snippet "a plausible assumption is that the principles of language are fixed and innate", but here's the rest of the same sentenceand the rest of the paragraph:
Chomsky actually wrote:

, and that variation is restricted in the manner indicated. Each language, then, is (virtually) determined by a choice of values for lexical parameters: with one array of choices, we should be able to deduce Hungarian; with another, Yoruba. This principles-and- parameters approach offers a way to resolve a fundamental tension that arose at the very outset of generative grammar. As soon as the first attempts were made to provide actual descriptions of languages 40 years ago, it was discovered that the intricacy of structure is far beyond anything that had been imagined, that traditional descriptions of form and meaning merely skimmed the surface while structuralist ones were almost irrelevant. Furthermore, the apparent variability of languages explodes as soon as one attends to facts that had been tacitly assigned to the unanalyzed “intelligence of the reader.” To attain “descriptive adequacy,” it seemed necessary to give very intricate accounts, specific to particular languages, indeed to particular constructions in particular languages: complex rules for relative clauses in English, for example. It was, however, obvious that nothing of the sort could be true. The conditions of language acquisition make it plain that the process must be largely inner-directed, as in other aspects of growth, which means that all languages must be close to identical, largely fixed by the initial state. The major research effort since has been guided by this tension, pursuing the natural approach: to abstract from the welter of descriptive complexity certain general principles governing computation that would allow the rules of a particular language to be given in very simple forms, with restricted variety.
In other words, what Chomsky is actually saying is that the program of figuring out what if anything is the content of UG could not even get off the ground if we had not studied a variety of languages in detail, which created the "tension that "the major research effort" initiated by Chomsky's work has been guided by! Once again, the exact opposite of the sentiment that you claim he is expressing in this passage.
Now lets turn to supposed Chomsky quote 2 -- the one in which he supposedly disavows "innateness". Brilliant work! You cut his last sentence off in the middle, to make him yet again sound like he's saying the opposite from what you claim. You quote Chomsky as follows:
Evans quoting Chomsky wrote:
“I am alleged to be one of the exponents of this [innateness] hypothesis, perhaps even the arch criminal. I have never defended it and have no idea what it is supposed to mean…people who are defenders of ‘the innateness hypothesis’ do not…even use the phrase.”
Except there's no period at the end of this in the original. Instead, the sentence (the very same sentence!) continues as follows:
"because there is no such general hypothesis; rather, only specific hypotheses about the innate resources of the mind, in particular, its language faculty. General arguments against some unformulated “innateness hypothesis” have no bearing on actual hypotheses about innateness, in the case of growth of language and conceptual systems or other forms of physical growth."
What Chomsky actually wrote thus makes your snide continuation ("This revelation might, in fact, come as a shock to many of Chomsky’s adherents, who may have been forgiven for thinking that Universal Grammar was, indeed, about innateness") utterly wrong and irrelevant. What Chomsky was actually writing is exactly what Adger tried to explain to you in comments on your previous post.
Finally for amusement, it's also interesting to check up on your supposed quote from Boeckx about Chomsky's "Galilean style":
Evans supposedly quoting Boeckx wrote:
"In his 2006 book, Linguistic Minimalism, Cedric Boeckx has praised this approach, dubbing it “the majestic Galilean perspective”
At this point it will come as no surprise that Boeckx didn't write this colourful phrase. He is actually quoting two well-known anti-Chomskyans, Jackendoff and Culicover, waxing sarcastic. They are the ones who coined and used this phrase, which therefore appears in quotation marks in Boeckx's text.
Maybe one such snipped and mangled quote could be put down to human error. But so many? Again and again and again?

Plentiful "errors" in quotation ("again and again and again") bespeak very bad faith.

Fortunately the Sophie's Choice I noted at the outset that one is often required to make need not be exclusive. Evans' work can be both misinformed and dishonest and it is quite evident now that it has successfully ticked off both boxes.

Two more things: I have gone after Evans' work repeatedly in FOL, The scandal of his published work goes beyond the work itself. The bigger scandal is that Cambridge University Press (Yes, CUP, the CUP!!) published this junk.  How did this get through?  I thought that CUP was a quality press and that it vetted and reviewed its projects. That's certainly what we tell our APT committees during promotion and tenure. But the Evans case suggests that what may once have been true is no longer true. It appears that "review" now means "would it make money?" rather than "can the contents pass the smell test?"CUP has embarrassed itself with this book and it owes Generative Grammar an apology. I would recommend one of the Japanese kind where the head of the linguistics section asks for our forgiveness and also immediately disowns the work. But don't hold your breath. There is money in this sort of junk, (there is always sales in debunking Chomskyan linguistics) and don't expect a university press, even a "venerable" one, to throw away a money making opportunity just because it's doing so via junk. As Upton Sinclair once (apparently) said: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it." Ditto for University Presses and Sales. Sad.

Last, I want to end with a BIG thank you to Anonymous. Whoever you are, you did important work. Cleaning out the Augean Stables is never anyone's idea of fun. Thanks for doing the heavy lifting so that the rest of us don't have to.


  1. Why the assumption that this anonymous person is a man?

    But at any rate, thanks for sharing this. This is pretty sad to see, and I think you're right to be talking about the publisher here. It seems like science and academia in general could really benefit by making a concerted effort to move toward open access publishing. And not just open access publishing that is mediated by commercial publishers, but open access publishing that is mediated by the actual practitioners (and renders commercial publishers obsolete). I'm thinking of, for example, Semantics and Pragmatics or the Language Science Press project of Stefan Müller that I commented about previously on this blog. Those things seem like great steps in the right direction, and it would be awesome to see them really grow and flourish (hopefully to the detriment of commercial publishers).

    If these publishers were rendered obsolete and run out of business, then perhaps things like this would be less frequent. Of course, complete elimination of junk like this seems unlikely, but it seems like it would be a good step in the right direction. And for more than just this one reason, too.

    1. Ahh, i actually did not assume it was a he. The masked man allusion is to a great Lenny Bruce skit where the Lone Ranger enjoys the kudos for a job well done. It's ver funny. But you are right, i should have said that you masked person.

    2. Ah, sorry for missing the reference. After looking up Lenny Bruce, it seems that was much before my time. :P

    3. No apology required. I was just being an old fart. But check Lenny out: he was great.

  2. Fascinating stuff, Norbert. I always love it when defenders of Chomsky pull out the passage of the quote you allege Vyv forgot here:

    "“I am alleged to be one of the exponents of this [innateness] hypothesis, perhaps even the arch criminal. I have never defended it and have no idea what it is supposed to mean…people who are defenders of ‘the innateness hypothesis’ do not…even use the phrase.”

    With undeniably Chomskyan humour Noam continues indeed as you say:

    "because there is no such general hypothesis; rather, only specific hypotheses about the innate resources of the mind, in particular, its language faculty."

    Now could you be a dear and provide a reference to this 'specific hypothesis'? We would actually love to cite it but, seemingly - it is non-existent. Chomsky certainly did not spell it out for the readers of 'New horizons' and, oddly, in the same volume he writes:

    " one defends the [innateness] hypothesis, including those to whom it is attributed (me in particular). The reason is that there is no such hypothesis. There are certain PROPOSALS about the initial state of the language faculty (LAD, UG)" [Chomsky 2000, 100, my emphasis]

    Over the course of 34 pages the specific hypothesis was seemingly downgraded to an unidentified number of proposals. But you're the expert, so what is it "specific hypothesis" [spelled out where] or mere proposals? Since we're also frequently reminded that there is NO current hypothesis - it's all program we may be forgiven for being unable to follow the deeply hidden logic. But here is your moment: accomplish what Chomsky has not: provide a reference that will un-confuse the world about his commitments.

    Talking of reference, we are also still patiently waiting for the references from SoLthat could support your claim that "Chomsky is especially careful to quote his sources when he goes after them."

    You have shown great determination to provide quotes for your Evans debunking project. Just why does it take so long to provide confirmation for your own claim? We are waiting, and waiting , and ...

  3. Christina, now you're misquoting. Chomsky writes `specific hypotheses' (plural), not `specific hypothesis' (singular). Try to be accurate. And of course there are many specific hypotheses as to what is innate. In older versions of the theory, you had the X-bar schema, the transformational rule Move Alpha, etc. In newer versions, you have binary, unordered Merge that recursively enumerates structures, as one hypothesis, specific mappings to the interfaces (for example Kayne's hypothesis that specifiers are uniformly linearised to the left of their heads, or Reinhart's hypothesis that pronouns, in order to be interpreted as bound variables, need to be c-commanded by the binding quantifier). These are specific hypotheses (plural) about what is innate. Once again, I commend to you my WIREs paper, where I lay out some basic syntax for the non-specialist. You may find that helpful.

  4. Dear David A., Thank you kindly for the correction of a question I asked [Incidentally my quote was correct, so please try to be accurate]. I had not asked for an exhaustive list of hypotheses but just for what is one [are several] binding hypothesis/hypotheses right now. Further, in your eagerness to point to my flaws you overlooked several of my questions: why did Chomsky not provide the hypotheses after he had pointed out that people are confused? It would have been an excellent opportunity to un-confuse them. Further, why did he use 34 pages later the term 'certain proposals' instead of 'specific hypotheses'? You immediately call me out for making an error when i ask questions about Chomsky's claims on an informal blog comment. Will we ever witness you asking him why he is not consistent in a published volume that is meant to inform the general public about his work?

    Also, since seemingly you decided to answer questions I had directed specifically at Norbert, maybe you also want to answer the other question he seems unable to answer. As you recall, he had claimed that "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." I had asked him to "provide such quotes from Chomsky's recent book "The Science of Language" ... 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." I have the utmost trust, dear David, that you will provide accurate answers if such quotes exist.

  5. you said: "Now could you be a dear and provide a reference to this 'specific hypothesis'?". Note here you put quotes around `specific hypothesis', but Chomsky wrote `specific hypotheses'. That is inaccurate and a misquote of what Chomsky wrote. And what is a `binding hypothesis'? That's not what you asked for. You asked for `a reference to this `specific hypothesis''. Now, there is no specific hypothesis, there are specific hypotheses. And I gave you a bunch as requested. I could give you the specific references, if you like, but I'm assuming you know enough linguistics to understand what I wrote. If not, I can recommend some textbooks.

    Are you actually interested in getting answers and learning something? Because if not, I'll stop responding.

    Not quite sure why you see the need to write `dear David' in that last sentence. In case you're not aware, it comes across as patronising.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. First, I was indeed unaware that the use of 'Dear David' is patronizing, I live in Canada where people believe that is polite. Thanks for educating me about this cultural difference. Just the other day someone said that you repeatedly suggesting I should read your WIREs paper is 'fairly insulting' - I assume the suggestion was not meant that way either but is considered being helpful in your culture?

    Second, I am here to get answers and appreciate you taking the time to providing some. Since you seem to miss some of the questions most in need of answers i'll provide a numbered list below [most important is #1]

    Third, I was using scare quotes [not direct quotes] in my question to avoid the silly discussion we are having. And, technically speaking, if there are several hypotheses, there must be at least one.

    Now to my questions:

    1. Norbert wrote that "Chomsky is especially careful to quote his sources when he goes after them. He footnotes heavily and quotes extensively." Judging by how you grill me about use of hypothesis instead of hypotheses, I assume you would have objected to Norbert's claim if you'd think it is incorrect. You have not. So my question to you: where in SoL does Chomsky provide those quotes for the examples I gave above?

    2. Why does Chomsky use 'specific hypotheses' on p. 66 and 'certain proposals' on p. 100 of the same work? What is the difference?

    3. I would like specific references to any and all specific hypotheses that right now are accepted by minimalists. Can you please provide these references?

    4. Given that you see a need to publicly point out that my use of 'dear David' comes across as patronizing, can you let us know why you never see a need to tell Norbert that his use of derogatory adjectives [I could list examples but prefer not to] when referring to the work of others comes across as insulting? I assume you point out those things to me so I can become a better person. Don't you think Norbert deserves the same courtesy?

  7. I'm glad that the hypothesis/hypotheses issue is now cleared up and that you understand what Chomsky wrote. Hopefully we won't have to revisit that.

    `Dear' is fine at the start of a letter, otherwise patronising. And yes, my suggestion you read some linguistics is meant to be helpful, as I think knowing linguistics is important if you're to criticise the field. Since you usually take your queries to usually unnamed linguists rather than engaging in linguistics itself, and you never directly engage with particular linguistic questions, it seems you don't know much linguistics, hence the suggestions. Of course you're free to criticise a field without knowing much about it, but then there's no reason to take you seriously.

    I'll not answer #1 in any detail, as I wasn't following this conversation. But if you look at, say, Rules and Representations, you'll see extensive use of footnotes etc; On #2, I don't think there's an important difference, its just phraseology; on #3 sure, for the ones I talked about, I'd suggest Collins and Stabler's paper for a specific hypothesis about Merge; Kayne 1994 (The Antisymmetry of syntax) for linearisation; and Daniel Buring's book on Binding for specific hypotheses on structural conditions on the construction of bound-variable semantics;but any textbook is full of such specific hypotheses; #4 I pointed out you being patronising because you were being directly patronising to me as an individual. Norbert generally talks about people's work or ideas or methods, not people as individuals. That's very different. You can be harsh about someone's work, because the work is not the person. In any event, to tell someone what to write on their own blog would be unmannerly (like going to someone's house and criticising their decor!).

    1. David, let me continue in this spirit of mutual clarification. You suggesting I read one particular work is not coming across as insulting [and FYI I read the WIREs paper the first time you suggested it, I did not find it particularly enlightening because it told me nothing new]. Suggesting I am "free to criticise a field without knowing much about it" is a different matter. You know I have read virtually every publication by Chomsky [he should qualify as a competent linguist, right?]. In addition, I answered a query by Norbert and listed linguists I had read some time ago on this blog. Further, in my dissertation I cite a great many linguists [among them Norbert and David P.] and discuss their work on a level that seemed justified to award me a PhD. Since this information is available to you, your suggestion comes across as insulting.

      It boggles presumably not just my mind that you would think me seeing extensive footnotes in R&R would be in any way relevant to the question where in SoL Chomsky carefully quotes those he criticizes. I take the combination of Norbert's silence and your distracting non-answer as confirmation that neither of you can provide any evidence that Norbert's claim is true for SoL. Feel free to correct me with such evidence, Norbert's exact claim [and all relevant context] is here:

      I note, that according to you there is no important difference between 'specific hypotheses' and 'certain proposals'. Elsewhere in the sciences these terms are certainly not used interchangeably. It seems to follow that your [part of the[ field does not follow generally accepted scientific practice. Can you please confirm this is the case?

      When I ask linguists like Paul Postal, Ray Jackendoff, Pieter Seuren, Geoff Pullum, Geoff Sampson [just to name a few] for specific references they provide something like the below for the Collins & Stabler paper:
      Collins, Chris & Edward P. Stabler. 2011. A formalization of minimalist syntax. even in the most informal of contexts. I see from the above that in your part of the field this is not the default, so in future I shall ask more specifically - please do not perceive this as patronizing.

      Regarding your comment about being unmannerly: just the other day when you, David P. and a group of others entered a Facebook discussion on Vyv Evan's homepage it seemed your group was not merely criticizing the decor but throwing out Vyv's furniture and replacing it with your [pl] own. You seemed not in the slightest troubled by that 'home invasion' [these are scare-quotes]. So you come across as someone who applies massively different standards for what he considers mannerly - depending in whose house he is.

  8. I didn't know you'd read everything by Chomsky. If that's the case, why do you need the references to specific hypotheses? There are many in his work, as elsewhere. I apologise if that came across as insulting - I'd assumed that you'd only focussed on philosophical work not linguistic work and that your request for specific hypotheses was genuine. But if you've read virtually everything by Chomsky and other linguists, you'll have seen many specific hypotheses, so I'm now a bit confused about why you're asking.

    I don't know what normal scientific practice is in terms of `specific hypotheses' versus `certain proposals'. What is it? Can you provide a specific reference for me? Both phrases seem pretty clear to me in the context in which they appear. The first one is about specific hypotheses (e.g. to be interpreted as a bound pronoun, a pronoun must be c-commanded by the antecedent quantifier), the second one is the same (e.g. the proposal that part of specifying UG is what I just wrote about bound pronouns).

    Apologies for not giving you detailed references. I'd assumed you could use google. You've already referred yourself to the Collins and Stabler paper so I assumed you knew that reference, and if you google 'Kayne 1994 The antisymmetry of syntax', or 'Daniel Buring book Binding', the first hit is the relevant one.

    I certainly didn't tell Vyv what to write on his page, and to be frank, I don't think I was unmannerly at all. I focussed only on Vyv's work and studiously avoided any personal comments about him or anyone else.

    But I am very glad that you now understand that your request at the top of this thread for a `specific hypothesis' was based on a misreading of what Chomsky wrote. That is, when you wrote `Now could you be a dear and provide a reference to this 'specific hypothesis'?' there is no referent for your phrase `this `specific hypothesis''. Happy to discuss any of the specific hypotheses I mentioned above in more detail. For example, the question of whether it's true that you need c-command to get bound pronoun readings has recently been challenged from both sides. Barker, in an LI paper I can give you the reference for if you're interested, argues that a structural condition isn't right, and that the condition should be folded into the semantics, while Bruening, in a recent Language paper, argues that actually a better model can be constructed by taking precedence plus a particular kind of structural locality into account.

    1. A few brief replies:

      1. "and to be frank, I don't think I was unmannerly at all [on Vyv's page]" I did nowhere claim you were. I said you were part of a group that was unmannerly. You did not resign from JL's editorial board because you did something improper, you resigned because you did not want to be part of a group that had done something you disapproved of. No matter how you twist and turn these issues, you come across as someone who applies double standards.

      2. I did not misunderstand what Chomsky said, i mistyped [hypothesis when i should have typed hypotheses]. I admitted I made this error right away but objected to you saying I had misquoted him [a claim which, as we cleared up, was based your misreading of my scare quotes].

      3. Like as accomplished linguists as Peter Culicover, Paul Postal, Geoff Pullum, or Pieter Seuren, I believe it is far from clear [based on reading Chomsky's work alone] what he is currently committed to. But since, unlike us, you also work in the framework [and presumably get some feedback on your work from Chomsky?] I thought you could point me to the most recent hypotheses. If you could provide the exact references to the 2 papers you mention above I'd be much obliged.

      4. One more question. After you pointing out with so much rigour that there is no referent to the term 'the innateness hypothesis'; could you be so kind and tell me what these 2 linguists refer to:

      “If we bring these facts [about language] in the open … we will thereby strengthen the innateness hypothesis for language acquisition” (Fodor*, 2009: 206) *This is Janet Fodor, not Jerry
      “The innateness hypothesis predicts immediate recognition of theoretical principles…” [Roeper, 2009: 1)

      Both are accomplished generativists so, presumably, they would know what they write about?

      5. One reference you may wish to look at re scientific hypotheses is Bunge, Mario [2002] The Philosophy of Science V. 1 From Problem to Theory. Transaction Publishers. But this is just a work I happen to have at home, I am sure you can find more recent works at your library.

  9. 1. Not quite sure how many times we have to go through why I resigned from JoL. It was because I didn't want to be associated with the publication of your piece, which I thought was inappropriate for an academic journal that I was on the editorial board of. You making up reasons doesn't change the basic fact of the matter. And an academic journal is not a blog or a Facebook thread.
    2. You mistyped `hypothesis' rather than `hypotheses' three times then, apparently. That's impressive.
    3. Fall 2012, Vol. 43, No. 4, Pages 614-633
    Posted Online November 14, 2012.
    © 2012 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Quantificational Binding Does Not Require C-Command. Chris Barker

    Precede-and-command revisited
    Benjamin Bruening
    From: Language
    Volume 90, Number 2, June 2014
    pp. 342-388 | 10.1353/lan.2014.0037

    4. No idea. I'd have to read the sentences in the context of the papers. I'd assume that it's anaphoric to some specific hypothesis connected to language acquisition, since that's their field. In pure syntax, or in philosophical discussion of generative views of innateness, it wouldn't make sense

    5. I don't recollect that Bunge tells us what normal scientific practice is in differentiating between `specific hypothesis' and `certain proposals', though I'll have a look. Thought he was quite misguided on linguistics though, in that 1984 paper of his.
    Philosophical Problems in Linguistics
    Mario Bunge
    Vol. 21, No. 2 (Jul., 1984), pp. 107-173

    1. You say: “No idea. I'd have to read the sentences in the context of the papers. I'd assume that it's anaphoric to some specific hypothesis connected to language acquisition, since that's their field. In pure syntax, or in philosophical discussion of generative views of innateness, it wouldn't make sense”

      Thanks for this. Maybe my question was unfair [apologies if it was]. Janet Fodor used the phrase “the innateness hypothesis" at the end of a roundtable-discussion that was held in front of an interdisciplinary audience. One would think that [1] she knew what she meant by it and [2] she assumed her audience knew what she meant by it. One participant of the discussion was Chomsky. If he truly has “no idea what it [=the innateness hypothesis] is supposed to mean”, he could have spoken up and asked for clarification for his own benefit and the benefit of the audience. He did not. Further, it is not true that “people who are defenders of ‘the innateness hypothesis’ do not…even use the phrase.” Janet used the phrase [again, I am confident she knew perfectly well what she meant by it], and so do many other generativists. So it IS baffling that Chomsky makes remarks that are simply incorrect.

      I have one further question: After re-reading the Collins&Stabler [2011] paper I am curious why you would think it is relevant to the innateness issue? Apart from using the term inductive hypothesis IH twice in derivations they only refer once to a hypothesis:

      “Our definition also allows Sideward-Merge, where A ∈ W, C ∈ W, A and C are distinct, and C contains B. A plausible hypothesis is that Sideward-Merge is excluded as a possible operation (contra Nunes 2004) by economy principles: Sideward-Merge involves three elements: A, B, and C (which contains B), instead of only two for the other subcases. We formalize this economy condition by defining derive-by-Merge below so as to block Sideward-Merge.” [5].

      Why would you think this hypothesis is relevant to the innateness issue? As far as I can tell a Platonist could accept it and incorporate it in his/her system. In other words, there is nothing linking this specific hypothesis to innate resources, genetic endowment, etc. etc.

      Maybe we have been talking past each other for some time? I am NOT denying that generativists have specific syntactic hypotheses [nor am I aware of anyone who would deny that]. I am asking for [one/some of the] specific hypotheses “about the initial state of the language faculty (LAD, UG)”. Are you aware of any of those that are currently accepted by minimalists? Thank you.

  10. Apologies for delayed response, Christina. Semester has started!

    Maybe you can give me the reference for the Fodor quote?

    On the hypotheses issue - maybe we are talking past each other; I’m not sure.

    Here’s the way I interpret things. Chomsky’s saying in this section of the book that he rejects the term `innateness hypothesis'. He’s reacting against Putnam's view in his "The innateness hypothesis and explanatory models in linguistics" (in Stich, S 1975 `Innate Ideas' University of California Press), where Putnam defines this hypothesis as `the human brain is programmed at birth in some quite specific and structural aspects of human natural language'. Chomsky doesn't want to accept this phrase (`innateness hypothesis’) as a definition that characterises what he is talking about, because he's taking it as read that almost everyone, including Putnam, empiricists like Quine etc, believe something is innate that accounts for human language learning, so he’s rejecting that you should use `innateness hypothesis’ in this way. What matters is not that something is innate (that’s what everyone believes) but specifically what is innate. Maybe Janet Fodor is accepting Putnam’s definition of that phrase in what she writes, I’m not sure. But this is really an issue of the meaning of the phrase rather than anything deep, I think. In general, I don’t think syntacticians tend to use that phrase for exactly this reason - what you need to talk about are specific hypotheses as to what is innate. For example, Alex Clarke and I both agree that there are innate aspects of the human brain that allow humans to learn language. Where we disagree is in hypotheses as to what those innate aspects are. So we both accept a general `innateness hypothesis’ but disagree specifically about which hypotheses as to what is innate will be fruitful. (I think - sorry Alex if I got that wrong!).

    1. Thank you David. I am very busy myself right now, so just very quickly:
      The Janet Fodor quote is from "Of Minds and Language", have a look and maybe then we can talk about it. My ONLY claim is that it is not true that no one 'uses the phrase 'the innateness hypothesis' - she does. We probably disagree on what she means by it - but I really make no claim about what she means.

      Also you may find listening to this recording interesting:
      [if you dislike the Skinner parts you can skip them]. At roughly 28:00 minutes Chomsky explains that [regarding UG] we are all fundamentally identical and that an extraterrestrial observer would say there is just 1 human with 1 language [this is from memory - so please double check]

    2. oh, ok, sure. Although since Chomsky wrote his paper in the 90's and Fodor used the phrase a decade later, he may have been right at the time! ;-). But I think it's pretty clear what he was saying: he doesn't like the phrase as a characterisation of his approach because he thinks everyone thinks something is innate.

    3. Right, if he had expressed himself as you do no one would object. But this is possibly as different from what he really said as what Vyv wrote about some other things he said - just in those cases according to you it was not ok to change the text and/or leave something out. It is NOT easy for people not as closely aligned to Chomsky as you are to know when he speaks metaphorically and when every word counts. We really have none of the characteristics adjectives for which Norbert so generously attaches to us - we just try to understand what Chomsky says and, presumably, at times we make mistakes...

      As for your 2000 vs. 2009 point - I did not want to use this reference but if I have to: he discussed in some detail the “innateness hypothesis” in Chomsky, 1975, pp. 33–35). So the term has been used - even by him, before 2000.

    4. Chomsky (1975: 11) makes precisely @davidadger's point, which Chomsky (2000) reiterates:

      'A preliminary observation is that the term “innateness hypothesis” is generally used by critics rather than advocates, of the position to which it refers. I have never used the term, because it can only mislead. Every “theory of learning” that is even worth considering incorporates an innateness hypothesis.'

    5. Thanks doonyakka - exactly. Even in the pages Christina refers to, Chomsky puts `innateness hypothesis' in quotes all the way through and says `Recall that there is no issue as to the necessity for such a hypothesis, only as to its character' (p33). Chomsky is clear and consistent in 1975 and in the 2000 book, so I think Christina has just misread it.

      Christina's point seems to be that Chomsky is difficult to understand, so I and others shouldn't call Vyv out when he misrepresents him. But I don't think Chomsky is difficult to understand in any of these cases we've been talking about. This isn't `On Binding' or `Problems of Projection', which, at least for me, require careful study. These are all straightforward concepts. The problem with Vyv's use of selective quotation is that the quotes just don't actually support the point he's making unless taken out of context or mangled. That's just very low-grade work that, if I were evaluating it as a student's work, I'd fail. It's also self-defeating intellectually, as it makes it look like, if you want to attack generative grammar, you need to make up a straw man to do so.

      I completely agree with Norbert that CUP should not have published it as is. Since it has been published, and is being widely read, it needs to be pointed out that it's a caricature based on shoddy scholarship and misquotations. And CUP should understand that, sales aside, it reflects badly on their reputation.

    6. Thank you for providing more [but not the relevant] context for the 1975 quote, David and doonyakka [apologies if this is not a name you want to be addressed with. I could go into further explanation but then Professor Pesetsky [in his attempt to impose censorship on opinions he dislikes] has complained about 'certain people filling up the screen' so I refer anyone actually interested in the point I am making [vs. just objecting to whatever i say] to my book "Assessing Cartesian Linguistics' -Peter Lang, 2014, where I discuss in some detail the context of the 1975 [and other quotes].

      For the sake of brevity, the bottom line is this: if 2 sides are willing to engage in constructive dialogue, they will find a way to do that even if one side [or both] occasional gets wrong what the other side says. Engaging in such a dialogue will take effort from both sides. I see very little indication that Chomsky [and some who have commented on this blog] are actually willing to make this effort [vs. insisting they are right and the other side is wrong]. But I would be delighted if I would be proven wrong...

    7. Ok, I'll have a look at it (though it's rather expensive, and I can't seem to download your thesis from the Canadian archives). But I'm happy to admit when I'm wrong, and have been wrong many times in my life. It's the best way to learn. But I've seen no evidence yet that I'm wrong about the interpretation of `innateness hypothesis' here, it's pretty evident from even a cursory reading and only gets clearer with a deeper reading. But I'll look at your book.

      Certainly the evidence that I'm right about Vyv's book being a caricature is mounting.

  11. So specific hypotheses as to what is innate in minimalist syntax would be the things I gave you references to above. Specific theoretical propositions about Merge (say as formalised in Collins and Stabler) plus its mappings to the interface, including structural conditions on linearisation (say Kayne's proposals for linearisation referred to above) and interpretation (say Reinhart’s proposals for pronominal interpretation under command, as referred to above). These would be hypothesised to be what the child is endowed with and uses when she/he confronts linguistic data, and the child then fills in variable aspects of this depending on the properties of that data. In fact, you can see the hypothesis status of these things quite clearly: the Reinhart proposals, though they've stood up well now for about 40 years, are being rethought by people like Barker and Bruening, and the Kaynian hypothesis has been under some critical heat for a while (Chomsky being one who hasn't accepted it, except partially and in a modified form). You can also see how earlier hypotheses about what is responsible for the unbounded link between sound and meaning have been replaced over time (used to be phrase structure rules with no embedding rules, plus singular and generalised transformational rules; Filmore’s criticisms of this meant that it was replaced by a set of base rules with some of them allowing embedding, plus cyclic application of singular transformations; Peter’s and Richie’s results on power led eventually to a sort of generate and test paradigm with a set of constraints on how lexical items are projected into phrase structures plus a single general transformational rule (Move Alpha) subject to output filters, in order to restrict the range of structures; that ended up having too rich a set of techniques of analysis and was replaced by a single rule, Merge, that itself defines a structure building cycle incorporating both phrase structure and the displacement effects that were previously captured by Move Alpha). Each of these is a specific hypothesis as to what is innate that is modified over time as a result of criticism, empirical or theoretical issues, which led to improvements over time and generally increased empirical coverage. What has stayed constant, I think, is that generativists think that some kind of mathematical model which computably enumerates structures connecting meaning and form, is most likely to be fruitful in understanding at least some, very interesting, aspects of human language.