HAS THERE BEEN A “CHOMSKYAN IMPACT” ON INDIAN MINDS
Dr Meti Mallikarjun
Dept of Linguistics
Sahyadri Arts College, Vidyanagar
Noam Chomsky Hailed as one of the most brilliant and influential intellectuals of the twentieth century, he has attracted international renown for his groundbreaking research into the nature of human language and communication. A prolific scholar and professor of linguistics who influences across the world and whose work is most cited that proves his intellectual credibility. His work produced what is referred to as the “Chomskyan Revolution,” a wide-reaching intellectual realignment and debate with implications that transcend formal linguistics to include psychology, philosophy, and even genetics. Keeping the above-cited insights, this paper develops epistemological framework in order to bring out how far Chomsky has influenced on Indian minds as far as linguistic studies are concerned.
This paper does not attempt to review the whole influence of the Chomskyan thoughts on Indian minds. Instead, this will concentrate on just those aspects of its relevance is taken into consideration in understanding the ‘knowledge of Language’ in contemporary language studies at one hand. In addition, why did not Chomskyan Linguistic thoughts influence Indians at the other hand?
Chomskyan Linguistics: A Paradigm Shift
To understand Chomskyan Linguistic paradigm, we must begin with his methodology and the assumptions interlaced with his volatile claims, which needs an epistemological explanations to understand methodological framework. Here is an attempt to mention a few of those assumptions; in general, ‘paradigm’ means an accepted model/pattern. It permits the replication of the model, any one of which could serve the pattern. In science, however, a paradigm is not just a replication. It is “an object of further articulation and specification under new and more stringent conditions” [Kuhn, 1970:23 quoted from; A. k. Sinha: 2000:1]. This paradigm gave a radical break up with behaviorism hence Chomsky demolished ‘Behavioristic approach’ and criticized its epistemological framework. He regards language as a ‘mental organ/phenomena’ not as a ‘social/behavioral phenomena’ for him language study as a set of mutually dependent entities in human mind i.e. brain pertaining to language which can be described through models of representations in the mind. He contributed substantially to a major methodological shift in the human sciences, turning away from the prevailing empiricism of the middle of the twentieth century: behaviorism in psychology, structuralism in linguistics and positivism in philosophy.
Noam Chomsky has brought a seminal work entitled Syntactic Structures in the year 1957 (Mouton & Co). The paradigm shift took place in the study of Linguistics across the world. Chomsky’s thoughts were the major influencing factor for shifting away from the empiricism perspective to an investigation into language as a uniquely human mental faculty with its own biologically determined structure and principles. Hence, Chomsky deems it “it is crucial for the development of adequacy theory to perceive much higher goals than descriptive adequacy, even utopian ones [AT 24f]. He envisions explanatory adequacy when a linguistic theory succeeds in selecting a descriptively adequate grammar based on primary linguistic data in relating an explanation of the intuition of the native speaker to an empirical hypothesis about the innate predisposition of the child [AT 25ff]. Instead of ‘gross coverage of a large mass of data’, which is not an achievement of any theoretical interest of importance. ‘Linguistics should discover a complex of data that differentiates between conflicting conceptions of linguistic structure by showing ones ‘can explain the data via some empirical assumption about the form of language’[AT26]. Even for descriptive adequacy, an explanatory theory of the form of grammar provides a main tool because the choice is always underdetermined by data and because relevant data from successful grammars for other languages can be collated [AT 41]. Though both ‘unrealized goals’, descriptive and explanatory adequacy are crucial at every stage of understanding linguistic structure [AT 36, 46]. For Chomsky, a theory of language can in fact, ‘be regarded as a hypothesis about the language-forming capacity of humans and language learning [AT 37]. We can formulate the Chomskyan paradigm by keeping the following legacies in mind:
I. Linguistic theory is concerned primarily with an ideal speaker-hearer in a completely homogeneous speech community
II. The second major legacy of the half a century of generative linguistics has been the ‘Reinstitution of the hypothetic-deductive method’
III. Mutually contradicting revisions within the Chomskyan paradigm
IV. Contradicting models of descriptive and explanatory adequacy have become the leading ideas of minimalist program
Some events change the history, some just change the way a person sees that history, and it is not always easy to tell the difference. But Noam Chomsky has changed our perspectives of linguistics, serves as a standpoint to speculate that faculty of language is unique to the human species. This implies that there are human-specific biological changes that lie at the basis of human language. However, it is not clear what the nature of such changes is, and how they could be shaped by evolution.
Empiricist versus rationalist approach:
1. Empiricism: an empiricist approach to language is dominated by the observation of naturally occurring data, typically through the medium of the corpus. For example, we may decide to determine whether sentence x is a valid sentence of language y by looking in a corpus of the language in question and gathering evidence for the grammatically, or otherwise of the sentence. Empirical Problems of Language Acquisition are; Imitation, Reinforcement, Analogy and Motherese etc… The American structural linguistics was [i.e. Bloomfieldian Linguistics] entirely developed based on empirical procedures. Interestingly, this particular theory of Linguistics has predominately dominated the linguistic intellectual world for half a century especially the Indian Linguistics.
2. Rationalism: rationalist theories are based on the development of a theory of mind and have as a fundamental goal of cognitive plausibility. In the case of linguistics, the aim is to develop a theory of human language processing, but actively seeks to make the claim that it represents how the processing is actually undertaken. Chomsky has provided extensively generated and substantial amount of arguments in order to understand how far he was influenced by cognitive psychology in the development of a Theory of Transformational Generative Grammar. This theory was emerged as an alternative to Bloomfieldian Linguistics, subsequently, to the Behavioristic theory as well. It is very apparent to note that, Chomsky has disproved the philosophical and methodological realities of the American Structuralism.
in this opposition between the methodology of confining research to observable facts and that of using the observable facts as clues to hidden and underlying laws, Chomsky’s revolution is doubly interesting: first, within the field of linguistics, it has precipitated a conflict which is an example of the wider conflict; and secondly, Chomsky has used his results about language to try to develop general anti-behaviorist and anti-empiricist conclusions about the nature of the human mind that go beyond the scope of linguistics.
His naturalistic approach to the study of language contributed to a shift of thought in the area of philosophy of language and mind. He was first to see the connection and dependency between the structure of language and the structure of human mind. This is what Chomsky has tried to establish the theory of Transformational Generative Grammar. This grammar has built up mainly by focusing the following hypothesis;
1. What constitutes knowledge of language?
2. How is knowledge of language acquired?
3. How is knowledge of language put to use
It is very evident to quote Searle here “Chomsky’s work is one of the most remarkable intellectual achievements of the present era, comparable in scope and coherence to the work of Keynes or Freud. It has done more than simply produce a revolution in linguistics; it has created a new discipline of generative grammar and is having a revolutionary effect on two other subjects, philosophy and psychology. Not the least of its merits is that it provides an extremely powerful tool even for those who disagree with many features of Chomsky’s approach to language. In the long run, I believe his greatest contribution will be that he has taken a major step toward restoring the traditional conception of the dignity and uniqueness of man” [by John R. Searle: June 29, 1972]. This quote makes every one of us to realize the importance of Chomskyan Linguistics in the Indian context also especially in the field of language studies. Since India happens to be a multilingual country in which linguistic conflict persists for ever between dominated versus dominating languages. According to Chomsky, the very fact of linguistics is to account for the speaker’s understanding of the internal structure of languages [i.e. Universal Grammar] that justifies every language is equally potential. At the same, it would able to discover the parametric fixation of every given language i.e. re-evaluating the linguistic prehistory of India.
Why did not Indian Linguists follow Chomsky?
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Western scholars began to study languages that were hitherto unfamiliar to Europeans and most North Americans. Description, not prescription, became the goal of those who were seeking to write grammars for those previously unrecorded languages. Because of this development, linguists revolutionized the study of Language. By the 1930s, a strong tradition of descriptive linguists stood in opposition to the traditional prescriptive approach.
In case of Indian languages, the Christian missionaries started analyzing Descriptive Grammars for Regional/tribal/indigenous languages during colonial and post-colonial periods. This linguistics school of thoughts influenced very effectively on the budding linguists who took linguistics as their profession in India. Apart from this, the aims of Indian linguists were to understand very fundamental issues relating to genetic affiliation of language families, typological similarities and dissimilarities among Indian languages. They wanted to demonstrate and establish that the linguistic autonomous of the Indian languages. Indian linguistic tradition firmly decided that Sanskrit is the mother of all the Indian languages genetically. The grammatical model for Indian languages was once again Sanskrit. This never paved the way to create an alternative grammatical model for Indian languages except Tamil Grammar i.e. Tholkappiyam. These arguments can be elaborated in specific conditions by keeping the following views:
1. Genetic classification:
Linguistic typological studies became very necessary to study of all the Indian Languages linguistically. It was felt very strongly that the classification of these languages according to their structural features and genetic affiliation was needed. This particular linguistic approach was aiming to describe and explain the common properties and the structural diversities of the Indian Languages in particular and the world's languages in general. These Linguistic typological studies were basically dealt with the issue of comparing within-languages and across Languages. These observations became as tools of Linguistic evaluation. With these results Indian linguists were able to identify the various language families based on the distribution of structural patterns among the languages. These were the contributing developments in deciding the genitival factors of Indian linguistics in specific and world linguistics in general. In order to decide that how two languages are genealogically (genetically) related in terms of their structures. And what are the linguistic possibilities were available to establish genealogical relations among languages to reconstruct their common ancestor. Say, for instance, Proto-Dravidian, Proto-Indo-European etc. such considerations lead further to interdisciplinary cooperation with archaeology (the physical record), anthropology (the cultural environment), and population genetics (biological inheritance).
2. Summer School Influence on Indian Linguists:
Soon after the political independence of our country, it was inevitable to prepare an intellectual community. During this period, some short term courses were conducted for teaching linguistics, a series of summer school were conducted by Deccan College, Pune and other premier Linguistics Institutes of India. These programs were sponsored by Rockefeller Foundation and American Linguistic society; this was the beginning of Indian Scholars’ career as Linguists. The Scholars like M B Emeneau who were participated in these training courses were received their training with Anthropologist Edward Sapir, who is specialized in American Structuralism. Subsequently Indian linguists also got their training in American Structuralism i.e. Bloomfieldian Linguistics.
Christ missionaries who were belong to British Raj and European continent had already started analyzing Indian Languages in Comparative and Historical Linguistic Perspectives. Colonization brought Europeans into contact with a wide variety of Asian Languages. These Scholars compiled word lists in many languages and used them in language comparisons. Robert Caldwell’s pioneering and path-breaking work on Comparative Grammar of South Indian Languages was the inspiration for this work. That certain Languages were related to one another became gradually appreciated, over the decades, this came to be established on increasingly firmer footing as techniques were developed and honed. Ultimately this led to the establishment of the Comparative Method. And all these colonial Scholars were trained under the Neo-Grammarian School. The challenges before these Scholars were to understand and analyze the languages of India in specific and languages of South Asia in general.
At other hand, simultaneously, scholars like Dr.S K Chatterji, Ramaswamy Aiyar, Dr. S M Katre, Dr. T P Meenakshisundaram Pillai, Dr. G S Gai, in Karnataka, Dr. T N Sreekantaiya, Dr. Narasimhia, the first generation of scholars were emerged. By now, considerable research had been undertaken to bring to light the history of the development of the Dravidian and Indo-Aryan Languages. Interrelated characters of these languages and other important linguistic aspects were developed in the due course that motivated to realize the typological aspects among Indian languages.
With the result of this scholarship, their orientation and summer schools, the theoretical orientation of Indian linguistics was established to understand the empirically based explanations that anchor the facts of linguistic similarities and dissimilarities among the languages. Indian linguists were committed to exploring the integration of linguistic structure and language use, recognizing both as essential to any explanation of how languages come to be as they are. And further, this was concentrated on Structural analyses that involved typologically, genetically, and areally diverse languages. And this was focusing on phonology, morphology, syntax, and discourse of the languages as well as the interactions among these levels. At this time Noam Chomsky was emerged as a linguist, and gave a unique dimension to language study that revolutionized linguistics. Since for Indian linguists, this has been the period of intensive descriptive and comparative activities for Indian linguists. There fore, they could not accept any new modals for understanding languages.
3. Anti- behavioristic/ Bloomfieldian Linguistic Approach:
He rebelled against the habitual formulistic equations, which reduced human language to a particular behavioristic pattern. Chomsky changed the direction of linguistics away from empiricism and towards rationalism in a remarkably short space of time. Consequently, this has revolutionized linguistics in term of analysis and perception of a language. In doing so, he apparently invalidated the corpus as a source of evidence in linguistic enquiry. He suggested that the corpus could never be a useful tool for the linguist, as the linguist must seek to model language for competence rather than performance. Competence [implicit] is best described as our tacit, internalized knowledge of a language. Performance [explicit] is external evidence of language competence, and is usage on particular occasions when, crucially, factors other than our linguistic competence may affect its form. This led into the epistemological debate on the orientations of linguistics. Chomsky has substantiated this view with his review of B.F. Skinner’s “Verbal Behavior”, in which he questioned the behaviorists’ approach to the study of language and behavior. In Chomsky’s view, (1959) language is not solely a set of habits developed in the process of conditioning but an innate predisposition of mind/human. This intellectual debate may allow us to generate different versions of empiricist and rationalist approaches. Philosophers argue that it is only epistemic status/philosophical stance regarding [language] sense of experience of any given thing. In Chomsky’s mature theory, as expounded in Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965), the aims become more ambitious: to explain all of the linguistic relationships between the sound system and the meaning system of the language. To achieve this, the complete “grammar” of a language, in Chomsky’s technical sense of the word, must have three parts, a syntactical component that generates and describes the internal structure of the infinite number of sentences of the language, a phonological component that describes the sound structure of the sentences generated by the syntactical component, and a semantic component that describes the meaning structure of the sentences. The heart of the grammar is the syntax; the phonology and the semantics are purely “interpretative,” in the sense that they describe the sound and the meaning of the sentences produced by the syntax but do not generate any sentences themselves.
Part – IV
Conclusion: Individuals interest in Chomskyan Linguistics
This is very much true that Chomskyan impact has not been there on Indian minds. At the same time, it cant’ be denied, there was an effort initiated by many of the budding linguists, who were influenced by Chomsky at the individual level in the mid of 20th century. Linguists like Prof. Agesthialingom, Annamalai University, Prof R.N Srivatsava, University of Delhi, and Prof A K Ramanujan [who did PhD in Generative Grammar on Kannada] of course, who have not been able to institutionalize in full fledge the Chomskyan modal of linguistics in India.
These scholars’ efforts were confined to PhD dissertations and close-door seminars. However, we may regard this effort is a very important one as far as Chomskyan Linguistics is concerned in the Indian context. This initiation has made a very big impact on up-coming linguists in India at the end of twentieth and at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Notice that this whole process of development of linguistics school of thoughts in India took place with various influences. Universities like JNU, University of Delhi, CIEFL, IIT’s, Bhartiyiar University, and other few instaurations have taken Chomskyan Linguistics into consideration to some extend for language studies. This linguistics program gradually led to design the methodology for the description and analysis of Indian Languages in computational Linguistics. The very sad thing is, none of universities of Karnataka were never tried to have Chomskyan Linguistics, neither part of their curriculum nor at the individual level even of this day. Interestingly, various researches have been done on Kannada by adopting Chomskyan modal, outside the Karnataka and India as well.
This could be realized based on the above discussions, Chomskyan modal has not been influenced on Indian minds, because, the kind of training, the first generation linguists received, consequently, the initiation took by the responsible professors of Linguistics of the various universities of India during the development of Indian Linguistics School of Thought. It must be noted that Chomsky is one of the greatest linguists of the twentieth century. His contribution to linguistics matters in the history of world Linguistics.
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- Neil Smith, 2000. Chomsky: Ideas and Ideals, Cambridge