The Linguistics Wars / Edition 1

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When it was first published in 1957, Noam Chomsky's Syntactic Structures seemed to be just a logical expansion of the reigning approach to linguistics. Soon, however, there was talk from Chomsky and his associates about plumbing mental structure; and a new phonology; and a new set of goals for the field, cutting it off completely from its anthropological roots and hitching it to a new brand of psychology. Rapidly, all of Chomsky's ideas swept the field. While the entrenched linguists were not looking for a messiah, apparently many of their students were. There was a revolution, a revolution which has colored the field of linguistics ever since. Chomsky's assault on the mainstream and his development of transformational-generative grammar was promptly endorsed by new linguistics recruits swelling the discipline in the sixties. Everyone was talking of the revolution and major breakthroughs seemed imminent. But something unexpected happened - Chomsky and his followers had a vehement and public falling out. In The Linguistics Wars, Randy Allen Harris traces the origins of this revolution in linguistics and tells how Chomsky began reevaluating the field and rejecting the extensions his students and erstwhile followers were making. Those he rejected (the generative semanticists) reacted bitterly, while new students began to pursue Chomsky's updated vision of language. The result was several years of infighting against the backdrop of the notoriously prickly sixties. The outcome of the dispute, Harris shows, was not a simple linear matter of a good theory beating out a bad one. The debates followed the usual trajectory of most large-scale clashes, scientific or otherwise. Both positions changed dramatically in the course of the dispute - the triumphant Chomskyan position was very different from the initial one; the defeated generative semantics position was even more transformed. Interestingly, important features of generative semantics have since made their way into
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this evenhanded, trenchant and witty academic chronicle, Harris looks at the fierce, acrimonious controversies that have rocked linguistics since the 1950s. At center stage is Noam Chomsky whose search for the innate structures underlying language revolutionized what had been primarily a descriptive, behavioristic science. Chomsky's followers, notably George Lakoff, James McCawley, Paul Postal and Haj Ross, came to view Chomskyan ``deep structure'' as a barrier to forging a link between sound and meaning. Their work, known as generative semantics, has been denounced by Chomsky as a heresy, but Harris, an English professor in Britain, credits generative semantics with making linguistics a vibrant, pluralistic field by introducing a crop of phenomena and methods which Chomsky had ignored. At the moment ``things don't look especially bright'' for Chomsky's model of language and mind, opines Harris, who asserts that the embattled, isolated Chomsky has borrowed ideas from his rivals and erstwhile followers. (July)
From the Publisher

"I enjoyed The Linguistics Wars immensely. Randy Harris writes with erudition and wit and always succeeds in presenting a balanced view of the controversies that have raged in the history of generative grammar. He made me reconsider a number of positions that I have argued for in my own work; typically, even where I remained in disagreement with him, he made me appreciate a complexity to the issues that I had overlooked."--Frederick J. Newmeyer, author of The Politics of Linguistics and Linguistic Theory of America

"In this evenhanded, trenchant and witty academic chronicle, Harris looks at the fierce, acrimonious controversies that have rocked linguistics since the 1950s."--Publishers Weekly

"Through his deep and extensive research, Randy Allen Harris has managed to throw new light on the schism in generative linguistics which indelibly colored the period from the late sixties to the late seventies. His insightful account of this period and the major figures involved reveals many new aspects of the disagreements and disputes at issue and the features of fact, theory and personality which underlay them. Future study of this period in linguistics will surely be shaped by this excellent work, which captures very closely the feel of what went on. I am inclined to say that the level of scholarship which the author manifests on nearly every page in many ways puts to shame that of much of the material he deals with."--Paul M. Postal [Note: no affiliation, per author request]

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195098341
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/28/1995
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 9.13 (w) x 6.13 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author

About the Author: Randy Allen Harris is Associate Professor of English at the University of Waterloo.

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Table of Contents

1 Language, Thought, and the Linguistics Wars 3
2 Linguistics 10
3 The Chomskyan Revolution 35
4 The Beauty of Deep Structure 74
5 Generative Semantics 1: The Model 101
6 Generative Semantics 2: The Heresy 135
7 The Vicissitudes of War 160
8 Generative Semantics 3: The Ethos 198
9 Generative Semantics 4: The Collapse 214
10 Whence and Whither 240
Notes 261
Works Cited 311
Index 341
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