The Science of Language: Interviews with James McGilvray

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Overview

Noam Chomsky is one of the most influential thinkers of our time, yet his views are often misunderstood. In this previously unpublished series of interviews, Chomsky discusses his iconoclastic and important ideas concerning language, human nature and politics. In dialogue with James McGilvray, Professor of Philosophy at McGill University, Chomsky takes up a wide variety of topics - the nature of language, the philosophies of language and mind, morality and universality, science and common sense, and the evolution...

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The Science of Language

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Overview

Noam Chomsky is one of the most influential thinkers of our time, yet his views are often misunderstood. In this previously unpublished series of interviews, Chomsky discusses his iconoclastic and important ideas concerning language, human nature and politics. In dialogue with James McGilvray, Professor of Philosophy at McGill University, Chomsky takes up a wide variety of topics - the nature of language, the philosophies of language and mind, morality and universality, science and common sense, and the evolution of language. McGilvray's extensive commentary helps make this incisive set of interviews accessible to a variety of readers. The volume is essential reading for those involved in the study of language and mind, as well as anyone with an interest in Chomsky's ideas.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Advance quotes: "Noam Chomsky has long been recognized as a founding genius of modern linguistics. These compelling and carefully organized interviews illustrate why ... The book is truly exceptional in affording an accessible and readable introduction to Chomsky's broad-based and cutting-edge theorizing. A must-read!" —Robert J. Stainton, The University of Western Ontario

"An indispensable presentation, in engaging interview form, of Noam Chomsky's evolving ideas about the scientific investigation of language and human nature, with illuminating explication by interviewer James McGilvray." —Howard Lasnik, University of Maryland

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781107602403
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 3/31/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 328
  • Sales rank: 662,137
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor (retired) in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

James McGilvray is Professor of Philosophy at McGill University, Montréal. He has written a general introduction to Chomsky's work (Chomsky, 1999) and edited and contributed to The Cambridge Companion to Chomsky (2005) and the second (2002) and third (2009) editions of Chomsky's seminal Cartesian Linguistics (Cambridge University Press). He has also published several articles on the philosophies of language and mind that defend in various ways the methods for the study of language and mind developed and endorsed by Chomsky and other internalist 'biolinguists'.

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Table of Contents

Introduction; Part I. The Science of Language and Mind: 1. Language, function, communication: language and the use of language; 2. On a formal theory of language and its accommodation to biology. The distinctive nature of human concepts; 3. Representation and computation; 4. More on human concepts; 5. Reflections on the study of language; 6. Parameters, canalization, innateness, universal grammar; 7. Development, master/control genes, etc.; 8. Perfection and design (interview 20 January 2009); 9. Universal grammar and simplicity; 10. On some intellectual ailments of scientists; 11. The place of language in the mind; 12. Chomsky's intellectual contributions; 13. Simplicity and its role in Chomsky's work; 14. Chomsky and Nelson Goodman; Part II. Human Nature and its Study: 15. Chomsky on human nature and human understanding; 16. Human nature and evolution: thoughts on sociobiology and evolutionary psychology; 17. Human nature again; 18. Morality and universalization; 19. Optimism and grounds for it; 20. Language, agency, common sense, and science; 21. Philosophers and their roles; 22. Biophysical limitations on understanding; 23. Epistemology and biological limits; 24. Studies of mind and behavior and their limitations; 25. Linguistics and politics.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 25, 2012

    Given Chomsky's reputation as one of the intellectual giants of

    Given Chomsky's reputation as one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century it is impossible to exaggerate my disappointment about the the poor quality of this work. It may qualify as a conversation between old friends who know each other so well that cryptic allusion to vaguely referred to work suffice for mutual understanding. There is no doubt that Chomsky has made important contributions to linguistics but this book does not inform about them.
    In spite of the impressive table of contents, hope for finding cutting-edge insights and meaningful engagement with long standing criticism fades quickly. Most arguments for domain-specific innate biological endowment, saltational language evolution, semantic internalism, and computational optimality have been proposed for decades and are unsupported by evidence and/or citation of sources. Further, it will be difficult, especially for the lay reader, to follow the presentation because terms are not clearly defined, the conversation meanders through countless obscure, irrelevant digressions, and far-reaching conclusions are often drawn from meager premises..
    Some may think that a series of interviews cannot be judged by the same standards as peer reviewed articles in professional journals, which is surely true to a degree.
    However, any publication aimed at newcomers to a discipline ought to provide solid information, credible references, and should be free of factual error. The position taken needs to be explained and defended in accessible terms, and competing views need to be objectively evaluated. Surely, this is especially true when the author is the leading authority of the field, and a public figure known well beyond the field of linguistics and, hence, enjoys more public trust than most scientists. Experts may be able (but should not be required) to ‘fill in the blanks’ throughout the interviews and correct the countless errors and misrepresentations. But lay readers are not in such a privileged position and depend on the information provided. And, it is precisely at the level of ‘general introduction to the field’ that The Science of Language fails. The problem is not that Chomsky fails to give a sophisticated, detailed account of all currently discussed theories of language evolution but rather that he invents an account that no one defends, seemingly in an attempt to convince the lay reader that language evolutionists are irrational. The problem is not that Chomsky does not describe Jeff Elman's conncetionist work in enough detail but rather that he distorts it beyond recognition. The problem is not that a few ‘just of the press’ articles are not referenced but that the nine page bibliography contains virtually no entries of work that has been savagely criticized, making it impossible for the reader to check the validity of the
    criticism. This filtering strategy is displayed numerous times throughout The Science of Language and can only be described as “gesturing rhetorically to a general public you’re misleading” (Chomsky, p. 105). 
     A detailed review can be found under the title 'A potpourri of Chomskyan Science' at lingbuzz/001592

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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