March 04, 2007

The Scientific Revolution in Linguistics

I received this from Michael Hand:

Greetings all! This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Chomsky's *Syntactic Structures*, the founding document of "generative-transformational" linguistics (in a broad sense). This is arguably the defining moment of the scientific revolution that replaced the prescientific, crassly empiricist Saussurean-Bloomfieldian linguistics with scientific linguistics as it is even today (though admittedly linguistic theory doesn't look much like the Chomskian theory of the late fifties). Chomsky's 1959 review of Skinner's *Verbal Behavior* is usually cited as the founding document of today's "cognitive science", but a case can be made that *Structures* should be accorded a share of that honor as well (though the review is more explicit in relevant ways). For an accessible and brief account of the revolution, see the early chapters of Newmeyer's *Linguistic Theory in America*; for an extensive and sometimes hilarious account of the empiricist attempt at counterrevolution, see Harris's *The Linguistic Wars*.

A moment of silent, appreciative reflection and awe right about now would not be inappropriate.

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