When it was first published in 1957, Noam Chomsky's Syntactic Structures seemed to be just a logical expansion of the reigning approach to linguistics. Soon, however, there was talk from Chomsky and his associates about plumbing mental structure; and a new phonology; and a new set of goals for the field, cutting it off completely from its anthropological roots and hitching it to a new brand of psychology. Rapidly, all of Chomsky's ideas swept the field. While the entrenched linguists were not looking for a messiah, ...
When it was first published in 1957, Noam Chomsky's Syntactic Structures seemed to be just a logical expansion of the reigning approach to linguistics. Soon, however, there was talk from Chomsky and his associates about plumbing mental structure; and a new phonology; and a new set of goals for the field, cutting it off completely from its anthropological roots and hitching it to a new brand of psychology. Rapidly, all of Chomsky's ideas swept the field. While the entrenched linguists were not looking for a messiah, apparently many of their students were. There was a revolution, a revolution which has colored the field of linguistics ever since. Chomsky's assault on the mainstream and his development of transformational-generative grammar was promptly endorsed by new linguistics recruits swelling the discipline in the sixties. Everyone was talking of the revolution and major breakthroughs seemed imminent. But something unexpected happened - Chomsky and his followers had a vehement and public falling out. In The Linguistics Wars, Randy Allen Harris traces the origins of this revolution in linguistics and tells how Chomsky began reevaluating the field and rejecting the extensions his students and erstwhile followers were making. Those he rejected (the generative semanticists) reacted bitterly, while new students began to pursue Chomsky's updated vision of language. The result was several years of infighting against the backdrop of the notoriously prickly sixties. The outcome of the dispute, Harris shows, was not a simple linear matter of a good theory beating out a bad one. The debates followed the usual trajectory of most large-scale clashes, scientific or otherwise. Both positionschanged dramatically in the course of the dispute - the triumphant Chomskyan position was very different from the initial one; the defeated generative semantics position was even more transformed. Interestingly, important features of generative semantics have since made their way into
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If you are looking for some clue over the most celebrated and discussed and opposed position over language and our psychological there-to-be-demonstrated endowment of the last half a century - that is, Mr. Noam Chomsky's Generative Grammar - here's the book that you should read. With witty argumentation, subtle and humorous, a good capacity for historical summary and interesting insight into the personalities of the dramatis personae of the story Randy Allen Harris homages the displacement by Mr. Chomsky of American structuralist linguistics underlying both merits and shortcomings of his theory, including short but clear and efficacious explanations of the main theoretical questions the movement of Generative Grammar had taken, and pays attention to the dispute between the master and its former disciples, (with an eye always to the social and historical background, which saw the emergence of the so-called "counterculture" of the 60s, then into the recession of values of the 70s, and up into the savage 80s), which arisen just over these theoretical questions, that developed in the antagonist current of Generative Semantics, highlighting the general and particular differences and dwelling with intelligence on the reasons why Mr. Chomsky at last won the dispute, or as it is called by the protagonists, the "wars". An enjoyable, fresh, sparkling book which will keep you on the chair up to the last line.
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