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Home » Dave’s DiegesesJuly 2005 » Dave’s Diegesis: Speaking Clique

Dave’s Diegesis: Speaking Clique

Language is power, life, and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation.
Angela Carter

Several things distinguish humanity from other animals, among them behing upright stance, true opposable thumbs, advanced cognitive abilities. But chief amongst these all might be the ability to convey abstract thoughts through language. Since I’m pursuing a second career as a television broadcaster, which requires a deeper understanding of how we communicate, I’ve been reading about Chomskyan linguistics.

Noam Chomsky redefined the study of linguistics, his most influential work being Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. The primary aspects of his linguistic philosophy are universal grammar, the principles and parameters approach, and his ideas about grammaticalness.

Universal grammar argues that all humans have a innate ability to acquire language, and that children attempt to apply this inherent grammar to the particular language which they are learning. This theory attempts to explain how the intracacies and nuances of language are so adeptly learned by children in a short amount of time by positing that a set of rules await refinement by the input these children receive.

The principles and parameters approach extends this theory into specific syntactic modules in our brains to be switched on or off according to the particular language being learned. According to his principles and parameters approach, there is a finite set of fundamental principles common to all languages as well as a finite set of binary parameters that determine a given language’s variability.

Finally, grammaticalness to Chomsky is not merely distinctions in usage and persnickety points about when and where to use a world. Grammaticalness can be determined by the intuition of a native speaker. Rather than relying on a limited pool of observed speech, as behaviorist linguists would do, this approach would free linguistics to explore generative grammars in little-used structures syntaxes that are not encountered in quotidian speech.

I can’t wait for my next NESN appearance now that I’m fully prepared. Bob Tewksbury’s got nothing on me.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and other lone science geeks looking for a career in television.

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