Monday, March 25, 2013
Generative Grammar's Bad Press
David Pesetsky gave a talk at the most recent LSA in Boston that addressed the lack of sympathy for Generative Grammar in the popular press. Indeed, it extends beyond that. Neither Science nor Nature are well know outlets of generative research. At the end of the talk, I put in my two cents. I suggested that a large obstacle to generous treatment was the fact that the most influential and prolific living linguist (Guess who? A hint: initials are NC) was also one of the leading political dissidents in the West. Much as our media love to laud dissidents over there they have little taste for those that highlight the shortcomings of our own cultural, political and financial elite. At any rate, suffice it to say that Chomsky's political writings have irritated a lot of people. These people thus have an interest in poisoning this well and one strategy is to show that even in his area of professional competence his insights have proven false and his research overthrown. This is an especially urgent task, it seems, for the liberal media like the New Yorker (see here). Glenn Greenwald has an excellent discussion of how character assassination is intended to work. Sadly, similar BS is not absent even within linguistics. I need not name names: we all know who the offenders are. So why is generative linguistics a hard sell? Well, part of the answer has nothing to do with the results of the field. What to do about it? In our small part of the world, we can refrain from character assassination and stick to debating the issues. Ideas are fair game, personalities are not.