Timothy Mason's Site

You will not find a critique of Chomsky's political writings on this page which addresses only his linguistic theories.


Most recent update - 22/02/04 : For links to pages in French, go here.


Links checked - 22/02/04. There are now about 80 links in all.


This page first arose as a possibility when I was putting together a course for trainee language teachers. This course begins with a look at models of first language acquisition and then goes on to consider SLA through a critique of Krashen's Monitor Theory.


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The writings on this site are licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Recent finds : uncommented

A new view of language acquisition
Patricia K. Kuhl*
("Infants are neither the tabula rasas that Skinner described nor the innate grammarians that Chomsky envisioned".)



Could Chomsky be Wrong?

Timothy Mason (cv)

Université de Paris 8

Well, could he? If you trawl the net, you will find that the majority of material on language acquisition - whether of a first or a second language - is strongly Nativist and often simply takes it for granted that Chomsky and Fodor have, between them, swept away all possibility of opposition. In the English-speaking world - the French, for example, are far more skeptical - the Universal Grammar or the language module rules supreme.

This page is simply an attempt to redress the balance ; you will find a set of links to pages that offer alternatives to what appears to be the reigning paradigm. I add material as I find it, trying to give some indication of the arguments. Although I am neither a linguist nor a neuroscientist, I have tried to exercise some judgement over what to include, but you may find you disagree with a number of my calls. So if anyone has any comments - other than to pooh-pooh the whole idea of questioning Chomsky - I'd be glad to hear them.

The most often cited alternative to Chomsky's model is that of Halliday's Systemic Functional approach. The Systemic Meaning Modelling Group at Maquarie University is the primary web resource for this. Then you could see The Systemic Functional Room, maintained by Noboru Yamaguchi, of Tohoku University, Japan, (but beware of some very aggressive graphics) and you can also consult Carol Chapelle's page on Functional linguistics. (Ms. Chapelle asks her students in applied linguistics to compare Chomsky and Halliday).

Some of Chomsky's own students became dissatisfied with certain features of his model, and were instrumental in forging a distinct brand of language study - Cognitive Linguistics. An interview with George Lakoff by John Brockman gives some background into how the break came about.The International Cognitive Linguistics Association has its own site, which is not, at the moment, particularly exciting. An introductory bibliography for the field has been compiled by Dick Hudson.

There are several papers written in this tradition that you can load down from Zouhair Maalej's page - such as "Metaphoric Discourse in the Age of Cognitive Linguistics (with special reference to Tunisian Arabic).

Out of the same stable is Fillmore's Construction Grammar. There is a page dedicated to this on the Berkeley server, put together by Charles Fillmore and Paul Kay. Although it hasn't been updated since 1997, it still offers a couple of chapters of a book they were writing on the grammar, and a number of lectures. A bibliography on Construction grammars is also available. (Richard Hudson compares his own Word Grammar with Fillmore's in a recent document available from his home site).

In a similar vein, a web-page put up from Kazan University, under the aegis of the Russian Association of Artificial Intelligence, offers The Web Journal of Formal, Computational and Cognitive Linguistics. Several interesting papers are available for down-loading - including Two Paradigms of Linguistics : The Semiotic Versus Non-Semiotic Paradigm by Sebastian Shaumyan (I can't load the original page any more - this link takes you to the paper via another site - load down as pdf)). Shaumyan argues that Chomsky has ignored the relationship between sound and meaning, and advances what he calls the semiotic paradigm, continuing the tradition in linguistics as rooted in the work of Saussure. Shaumyan also posted a short statement of his case against Chomsky's psychologism to the Linguist list.

Other dissatisfied Chomskans can be found at the HPSG Server at Stanford. This has a good set of links, and interviews with Ivan Sag, Bob Carpenter, Dan Flickinger and Hans Uszkoreit (Note - this has been shifted from the University of Ohio server, losing some items in the process, it seems).

There is also a 'Beyond Chomsky' Website run by Bernard Paul Sypniewski out of Rowan University, hosting a number of papers by linguists such as Victor Yngve ('Human Linguistics - the Hard Science Alternative'). Its 'statement of purpose', written by Bruce Richman opens :"The main obstacle that we have today to clearly understanding the nature and origin of language is the overly formalistic, anti-empirical, anti-historical influence of Chomsky's paradigm for doing linguistics." Bernard Sypniewski encourages contributions. (I can't seem to access this site using Mozilla on OSX. Bruce Richman tells me that there is a site menu on the left hand side, but I can't see it. I can't see it using Opera on Linux either. Perhaps it's just for Windows people).

For an early call to go "Beyond Chomsky", see Leon James' "Prolegomena to a Theory of Communicative Competence", written in 1969, and which takes on the task of evaluating the Chomsky revolution 'ten years after'.

Finally, I will mention a page by Alex Gross, who is a specialist in translation. This has lead him to question both the basic theory of the Nativists, and their use of languages which they have no real knowledge of, such as Chinese, to make their points. You will find other leads from there.

Pages en français

Le philosophe Paul Ghils (Haute Ecole de Bruxelles) voit Chomsky comme représentant d'une pensée linguistique prisonnière de la logique formelle, et suggère qu'une voie davantage 'héraclitienne' serait plus fructueuse.

L'université de Laval nous fournit un site sur l'oeuvre du linguiste Gustave Guillaume. Le site s'est enrichi récemment d'articles divers.

Ailleurs que, plutôt que contre, Chomsky - comme, à vrai dire, la majorité des linguistes francophones - Gilles Bernard, linguiste et informaticien à Paris VIII, met à notre disposition un grand nombre de ses articles dans lesquels la linguistique énonciative rencontre l'intelligence artificielle. (Depuis sa page personnelle, on peut facilement atteindre la page du Groupe CSAR, (Catégorisation Sémantique Automatique par Réseau neuromimétique).

Pierre Bourdieu s'est souvent montré critique à l'égard de la linguistique Chomskyenne - sans vraiment élaborer là-dessus. Pour ma part, je le soupçonne de ne pas avoir pris le temps d'entrer suffisamment dans le champs pour formuler une opposition intéressante, et j'ai l'impression qu'il ne saisit pas très bien ce que Chomsky veut dire. J'inclus néanmoins un lien vers son Intervention au Congrès de l'AFEF, (Limoges, 30 octobre 1977), où il expose certaines des idées qui nourrissent son livre 'Ce que parler veut dire'.

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