Monday, August 11, 2008
Goldstein, Evan R. "Who Framed George Lakoff?" CHRONICLE REVIEW August 15, 2008.
In the late 1960s, Lakoff joined company with some of Chomsky's students and colleagues and began pushing the noted scholar's landmark theory of generative grammar in more expansive directions, in particular toward the study of meaning. Chomsky maintained that linguistics methodology required that a line be drawn between the meaning of language and the function of language (syntax). Lakoff and his fellow dissidents, who became known as generative semanticists, considered such a distinction arbitrary and wrong-headed. One generative semanticist equated it to a theory of the stomach that ignores digestion. Around the same time, Lakoff began a career-long habit of making incursions into other fields — philosophy and psychology in particular — and incorporating some of those findings into his linguistics scholarship. The tension between the two camps was palpable during a series of famous lectures that Chomsky gave at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology beginning in 1967, in which Chomsky began to challenge the work Lakoff and his colleagues were doing. Chomsky felt the generative semanticists were leading linguistics into areas so tangentially related to language that he questioned whether they were doing linguistics at all. With Lakoff and other dissident linguists often in the audience, Chomsky's lecture hall became a scene of intense, acid-tongued intellectual combat. One illustrative episode, recounted in Randy Allen Harris's The Linguistics Wars (Oxford University Press, 1993), has Lakoff repeatedly interrupting Chomsky to shout, "Noam! Noam! You're wrong!" At another point, Lakoff interjects: "I have been lecturing about these things, and if you are interested, you should come to my class." As Harris, a professor of rhetoric and communication design at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, notes wryly, "the level of gall required for anyone, let alone a junior lecturer, to tell the inventor of the field to attend his classes if he wanted to stay current goes right off the chutzpah meter." Though there remains some debate about how the linguistics wars ended, Chomsky is widely regarded as having retained his place at the center of the discipline. It's his theories that you'll find today in most linguistics textbooks. "When the intellectual history of this age is written, Chomsky is the only linguist whom anybody will remember," says Geoffrey Nunberg, an adjunct professor at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley and a consulting professor of linguistics at Stanford University. . . . Read the rest here: http://chronicle.com/free/v54/i49/49b00601.htm.