a Chomskyin sidelight

Bill Benzon (bbenzon@mindspring.com)
Mon, 9 Jun 1997 19:02:02 -0500

Message-Id: <199706092258.SAA23362@brickbat8.mindspring.com>
Date: Mon, 9 Jun 1997 19:02:02 -0500
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
From: bbenzon@mindspring.com (Bill Benzon)
Subject: a Chomskyin sidelight

>The argument is neither as silly nor as futile as it sounds. For one
>thing, the answer tells us what we ought to be studying -- should we be
>trying to infer the nature of the "real" Dog and variations on this theme,
>or should we see categories (like "dog") as existing only in the human
>mind? (I will not discuss theology here, and I set aside what may or may
>not exist in the mind of God.) Later, these questions created two sorts
>of anatomy, one dealing with "ideal morphology" and the other with
>anomalies and variations. You can still find the first in most anatomy
>textbooks when they speak of "human" anatomy (meaning the anatomy of a
>generic human being, a "type"). Genetics, however, began with nominalism,
>and from the very start studied *variation.*

Similar considerations led Chomsky to distinguish between the study of
linguistic COMPETENCE and linguistic PERFORMANCE. Performance is the
utterances which people actually make. Those utterances are frequently
"imperfect" & "incomplete" in various ways. OTOH, Chomsky's notion of
grammar has it to be like a mathematical system, with grammatical
utterances being derived (e.g. "generated") from the axioms and postulates
of the system. So, for Chomsky the grammar characterizes linguistic
competence, not performance. In this view, the flaws in linguistic
performance have to do with the mechanisms actually creating the
utterances. The proper object of linguistic study is competence, not

One might also view linguistic competence as a Platonic ideal.

Chomsky's view has not been universally accepted.

William L. Benzon 201.217.1010
708 Jersey Ave. Apt. 2A bbenzon@mindspring.com
Jersey City, NJ 07302 USA http://www.newsavanna.com/wlb/

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