Grammar

Sep. 9th, 2016 12:26 am
kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
[personal profile] kortirion_among_the_trees
Not a well-written article, but confirms what I've always instinctively known: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/evidence-rebuts-chomsky-s-theory-of-language-learning/  The only aspect of linguistic studies that has ever interested me (apart from bilingual language acquisition) is, unsurprisingly, old-fashioned philology, and universal grammar always seemed utter bollocks against that background.  However, I know nothing about philology really, so I do wonder whether my gut feeling was something real historicist students of language shared?  Not much light on this from the article, which comes from a very different disciplinary angle.

Date: 2016-09-09 04:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dreiviertel.livejournal.com
Well, I always had some ingrained suspicions about the generative theory, but I suspect it is my Soviet background + love of Tolkien's 'philology' talking, not to mention ignorance as no-one ever taught it to me properly (I had to learn everything for my thesis by myself, which inevitably led some questions unanswered).

Date: 2016-09-11 08:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arda-unmarred.livejournal.com
In my case it's just ignorance plus gut-level historicism (as a mode of understanding anything whatsoever). Chomsky's theory (from the microscopically little I know of it) has always come across as unempirical and unfalsifiable, and therefore useless.

Date: 2016-09-09 10:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] colinbj.livejournal.com
Chomsky's 'Deep structure of language' always sounded like bollocks to me too.

The surviving feature - capability for recursion - is a practical necessity in every non-trivial form of information processing.

It amuses me when, by analogy, artsy people insist that basic features of music are 'cultural'. An octave is a factor of two in frequency (hence also wavelength). A chord involves an integer ratio of frequency (hence also wavelength). It's hard to imagine any sound processing system, human, animal or other, that didn't find these features 'special'.

Date: 2016-09-11 08:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arda-unmarred.livejournal.com
I'm not sure that's an analogy - wasn't Chomsky's whole point that his theory was 'scientific' and transcended culture (i.e. language as something that evolves and is historically contingent)? Please correct me if I'm wrong, as I said, I know virtually nothing about it.

The cultural argument about music I am also too uneducated to genuinely engage with, but I always thought their case was not that there existed no physical basis for chords and octaves, but that the particular features of sound that are regarded as 'musical' vary between cultures in space (East and West) and time. So this about different scales and ways of subdividing the octave: http://vaczy.dk/htm/scales2.htm (no idea how accurate it is, just came across it).

Date: 2016-09-11 08:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] colinbj.livejournal.com
You're right that the 'deep structure' of human language is (supposed to be) not cultural but a human-species-wide thing. My point is that recursion is not even species-specific, but more like grounded in the mathematical fabric of the universe, truly general.

Yes to your second point as well: the specific small tweaks you make to the geometric progression of notes in an 'ideal' octave (a frequency ratio of eighth-root-of-two for each step of an 8-note octave) to get as many exact integer ratios as possible for chords, is culture-specific. But I have encountered quite a few people who think the octave itself is culture-specific, rather than involving an exact factor of 2.

Date: 2016-09-11 09:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] colinbj.livejournal.com
I could have expressed myself more clearly, conceded!

Date: 2016-09-11 09:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] colinbj.livejournal.com
I just read this piece, had you heard of Roald Dahl's 'Grammatizator'?

http://community.dur.ac.uk/malcolm.munro/fiction/sr.htm

....but I shall not go to this meetup tomorrow:

https://www.meetup.com/Oxford-Artificial-Intelligence-Meetup/events/233258555/

Date: 2016-09-11 09:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arda-unmarred.livejournal.com
Fascinating! I wasn't aware of this story (though I suspect he stole the idea of the novel-writing machine from Nineteen Eight-four).

Speaking of AI, have you seen this: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n16/paul-taylor/the-concept-of-cat-face ?

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