…How to freeze a caste system while professing only the purest democratic principles…
To almost anyone who respects the English language for its grace and beauty, its combination of precision and flexibility, the social philosophy of the Structural Linguists seemed almost incomprehensible. They epitomized the “anti-intellectualism of the intellectual.” For among all the forces of cultural vandalism at work in America, their work could be considered as the most destructive, bordering on outright nihilism. Their influence on the schools and on the pupils within them simply served to incapacitate coming generations, the proverbial dumbing down effect centered around declining reading and writing skills and the ensuing blight on overall culture, truly inaugurating the “Society of the Spectacle.”
The paradoxical aspect of their assault on the English language was the claim of being motivated only by the purest democratic principles. Recoiling from what they considered the “socio-ethnic snobbery” of graceful speech, they served only to abet and utterly undemocratic freezing of caste. For if good and correct English is regarded as a sign of status, like good manners and clothes, then to commit a language student forever to their own level of speech is as undemocratic as denying them the hope of any kind of social and economic advancement.
In the writings of the linguistic philosophers there was the leitmotif that language should not be corrected or refined, that everybody should continue to talk the way his parents did, and that any teacher that tries to improve a student’s language is endangering the latter’s psyche and morale.
Another blind spot of the Structural Linguists distorted their attitude toward writing. In their preoccupation with speech they painstakingly listened for nuances of sound, slight shadings of stress and juncture and phonemic modification, while professing indifference to matters of literary style, to say nothing of spelling and punctuation. Although no one denies that Homo sapiens developed speech before writing, the advent of writing marked the advent of civilization and history. And writing has been the medium by which culture, the accumulated wisdom of the past, has been transmitted down through five plus millennia since the Sumerians first began to scratch cuneiform symbols on clay tablets in their walled cities on the Tigris-Euphrates plain. ( to be continued)…
(see link at end)… The majority of Chomsky’s writings with regard to the nature of knowledge pertain specifically to the construction and use of language. His theory of Generative Grammar, though constantly evolving, stands as a microcosm of his views on the human mind’s methods of taking in and storing information. While much of it is primarily applicable to the field of language, there is more than enough here to illustrate his core ideas about education and the formation of human thought and knowledge.
“Human thought has been formed through centuries of man’s consciousness, by perceptions and meanings that relate us to nature. The smallest living entity, be it a molecule or a particle, is at the same time present in the structure of the earth and all its inhabitants, whether human or manifesting themselves in the multiplicity of other foof life.” Knowledge of Language: its origin, nature and use, pg xi (Chomsky, 1986)
At its heart, Chomsky’s theory of Generative Grammar is a way of describing the way people learn to communicate. The core of this theory is the idea that all human language originates from a common source, an innate set of grammatical rules and approaches that is hardwired into the human mind. This is a very naturalistic approach, but one that has found ever increasing acceptance amongst experts in the field (Chomsky, 1986).
His fundamental approach to knowledge is very similar to that used in Information Processing Theory. According to Chomsky, in order for knowledge to be retained, there must be previous knowledge already present for the new information to be associated with. He typically refers to this process as “building” on prior knowledge, but it has obvious parallels with the “networking” described by IPT. Particularly in the process of taking in information initially, generative grammar has direct parallels with the ideas put forward for information processing theory (Miller, 1956).
In a bit of a twist on the initial networking concepts of Information Processing Theory, Chomsky postulates that, once integrated into a network, some knowledge, specifically procedural knowledge, becomes irreducible in complexity (Chomsky, 2000). Once something is known and successfully networked, it is possible for it to become intrinsically tied to its immediate network in the mind of the learner. In Chomsky’s words;
“Notice that similar considerations show that knowing-how – for example, knowing how to ride a bicycle – cannot be analyzed in terms of abilities, dispositions, etc.; rather, there appears to be an irreducible cognitive element.” – New Horizons in the Study of Language and the Mind, pg 52(Chomsky, 2000)
Chomsky’s view of knowledge is heavily cognition-centric, as one would expect from a linguist. His theoretical framework approaches the concept of “knowing” as a purely cognitive phenomenon, separate from one’s ability to apply that knowledge directly to the world. This approach is nearly as purely cognitive as possible, almost anti-behavioral in its bent. Chomsky himself almost says as much;
“Notice finally that an account of knowledge in terms of ability, taken in anything like its normal sense, has proven utterly unproductive.” – New Horizons in the Study of Language and the Mind, pg 52 (Chomsky, 2000)
It is the idea of innate and natural grammar that really sticks. While there is little dispute at this point that some of the more fundamental functions of the human brain are transmitted as instincts. We don’t have to be taught to breathe, after all. The concept of an underlying mental matrix that informs all of human language is a bit of a departure from more traditional views on the origin of verbal communication (Chomsky, 2000).
This view is decidedly naturalistic. Rather than the cultural development of spoken language through generations of trial and error, this would imply that it has all been merely a reconstruction of instincts that were already present. Each and every language spoken today, then, would have a common root in the language center of the human brain. The different forms that those languages then took could be attributed to different opportunities and approaches to networking the new verbiage and syntax. Read More:http://www.newfoundations.com/GALLERY/Chomsky.html