From the "Inferential Man" interview at http://www.pitt.edu/~rbrandom/publist.html

"Norms are binding only insofar as one has endorsed them and adopted them. For example, to take the coin in my pocket to be copper, I have bound myself to that commitment that it’s copper. By binding myself by these discursive norms, particularly the contents of concepts, that’s the root of substantial expressive freedom, as Chomsky has brought home to us over the last half century. Chomsky’s thought begins with the observation that almost every sentence uttered by an adult speaker is radically novel, novel not just in the sense that that speaker has never uttered or heard that particular sequence of words before, but that almost certainly no one in the history of the world has ever uttered or heard that particular sentence. That expressive freedom makes it possible for us to entertain new possibilities as to how things are or might be, and to entertain new goals and new plans"

I've seen Brandom make similar lauditory comments about Chomsky in his published writings, although I cannot remember where. I gather he thinks the idea of infinite productions from finite means (which Chomsky did not discover) is a critically important aspect of speech practice.

this puzzles me. personally, I think Chomsky is the antithesis of a good scholar. I can't think of a single thing he has ever written that is not a piece of ideology, or even proganda. more to the point: Chomsky's idea of linguistic creativity is precisely not free. the "radically new" sentences we create are 100% determined by the alleged "grammar" machine we carry around in our heads. I don't see any room there for genuine innovation.

so why is Brandom of all people so enamoured of the Pied Piper of MIT? I can't see how language could be both socially constructed and innate. there are lots of highly regarded scholars who reject Chomsky root and branch in favor of a much more pragmatic perpsective. (obvious example: I am capable of traveling to the corner store in an infinite number of ways, ways that nobody in the history of the world has ever done. so what?) the regularity of language, and the creativity of speakers, can be accounted for without relying on predefined notions of "grammar", let alone innateness. So whassup with Bobby Brandom? ;)

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    What's the question? Why is Chomsky so influential, respected and cited, despite your criticisms? – innisfree Oct 15 '16 at 23:51
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    "I can't see how language could be both socially constructed and innate." If I understand your objections correctly, this dilemma only arises because you are equating language and grammar. – duplode Oct 15 '16 at 23:59
  • Chomsky is generally much better received by philosophers than by scientists, especially linguists. Universal grammar essentially failed as science, but apparently offers philosophically productive ideas. In the passage you quote Brandom credits Chomsky for dramatically raising the issue of the learnability of language, the issue Brandom himself had to wrestle with. But he did not accept the traditional solution based on compositionality, let alone innate grammar, he explicitly contrasts his non-compositional but recursive learning to that in response to Fodor in Reading Brandom. – Conifold Oct 16 '16 at 0:12
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – user2953 Oct 18 '16 at 9:17

this puzzles me. personally, I think Chomsky is the antithesis of a good scholar. I can't think of a single thing he has ever written that is not a piece of ideology, or even proganda.

Are you confusing Chomsky the linguist with Chomsky the political hack? Yes, they coexist in the same person, but they are quite different from one another(1).

It is impossible to ignore Chomsky the linguist, never mind how much you hate Chomsky the pundit. That's not to say that his linguistics are above criticism, but to realise that criticism of his linguistics is only possible due to his own linguistics. They are the state of art in liguistics, or were so not long ago, and progress in linguistics is not going to happen without a very sound and thorough analysis and refutation of his contributions.

(1) They are so much incompatible with each other that while Chomsky's politics are quite left of the centre (though not so much as rabid right-wingers suppose), his scientific contributions are based on a quite right-wing trope, the idea of an instinctual, hard-wired, ability to learn languages.

  • Leaving aside the notion of a universal grammar, do modern linguists not believe humans are hard-wired to learn and use language, in a way that other animals are incapable of? – Dan Bron Oct 16 '16 at 13:43
  • @DanBron It seems that we aren't, as feral children will not be able to learn languages, or develop one of their own. – Luís Henrique Oct 16 '16 at 14:29
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    A truck left unused and unmaintained in a field will rust and be unable to move, that doesn't mean it doesn't have the inherent ability or mechanisms to move at 60 mph, they've just degraded due to negligence and disuse. I am willing to bet if you put two or more children on a desert island, with no one else around, they would develop a language. But all that aside, I'm wondering what the modern consensus among professional linguists is: are humans, in a way unique among all other animals, built to talk, as birds are built to fly and fish to swim? – Dan Bron Oct 16 '16 at 14:33
  • @DanBron No, many do not. First, there seems to be no specialized "language faculty":"evolution of human capacities for linguistic communication draw on what was already there cognitively" cambridge.org/core/journals/behavioral-and-brain-sciences/… Second, human language is too fluid for such faculty to evolve on the requisite time scales (which is why Chomsky doubted evolution) – Conifold Oct 17 '16 at 23:09
  • @Luís Henrique : regarding feral children : an individual, isolated feral child would have no need of language. but the (Nicaraguan?) deaf children have demonstrated that "feral" children can and do invent tbeir own language. – user20153 Oct 18 '16 at 0:11

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