Chomsky To The Rescue!

Posted by on October 4, 2014

As you might have guessed by my lack of recent contributions, I’ve been thoroughly engrossed in the task of learning the Mangoustani language. After poring over Volume 1 for many weeks, I thought I might actually be making some progress. Then I opened up Volume 2, only to find a brief explanation stating that the analysis of the Mangoustani language is still underway, and that the remainder of the books were blank. They were apparently included merely for their aesthetic value. Along with this enervating explanation was a coupon that I can return in order to receive the actual books once they are written (shipping and handling not included), as well as a suggestion that if I need to learn Mangoustani right away, I should probably enroll in a linguistics course and learn how to analyze the language myself.

Faced with such a dilemma, most people would simply throw the blank books away and start binge watching Breaking Bad. Unfortunately, the political tension in the former East Mangoustan makes such a decision impossible. And besides, I’m never one to pass up a good challenge. After several weeks of learning the ins and outs of phonology and morphology, I arrived at the unit on syntax. I learned about the linguistic theories of Leonard Bloomfield and Noam Chomsky. Suddenly, the whole world made sense.

The linguists studying the Mangoustani language are obviously trying to understand it based on Bloomfieldian structural linguistics. That’s obviously why there were so many examples of rote phrases and so much emphasis on the surface structure of the Mangoustani language. In case you didn’t know, Bloomfield’s approach emphasizes “explicit systems of relations between linguistic units” rather than focusing on the mental processes that people use to generate the things they say (“Linguistics” para. 3).  Once I’d learned about this distinction, I understood the reason that the Mangoustani language textbooks were so full bizarre phrases and a were based on a “rigid set of learned rules” (Rowe & Levine, 138). I’d love to share some of these phrases with you, but I haven’t yet installed the Mangoustani language pack on my computer.

It seemed that the theories of Noam Chomsky would be a much better way to understand this confusing cant. Instead of analyzing language in terms of mimicry and the production of fixed phrases, he explained that language learning was an innate capacity of the human mind. His mentalist approach to linguistics suggests that all people mentally form ideas in a similar way (the “deep structure” of an utterance) before applying subconscious grammatical transformations to generate the actual sentence (the “surface structure”). (Strässler para. 5) It seems like this would be a much better way to understand the complexities of the Mangoustani language, and it would avoid spending months memorizing dubious phrases such as, “this cow is disrespectful to most hedgehogs.” Under the Bloomfieldian model, one would have to hear that phrase before he or she could use it in a conversation, but the Chomskian approach shows that the productive nature of language would allow a competent speaker to produce this utterance spontaneously if the need arose. And in the former East Mangoustan, that need seems very likely to arise.

WORKS CITED

“Linguistics.” Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2003. Credo Reference. Web. 4 October 2014.

Rowe, B. and Levine, P. A Concise Introduction to Linguistics Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2009. Print.

Strässler, J. “Mentalism.” Key Ideas in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language. Edinburg: Edinburgh University Press, 2009. Credo Reference. Web. 4 October 2014.

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