Speculative fiction writer, translator, and editor


Noam Chomsky

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Roasting Chomsky

In his interview, Chomsky dismisses much of sociolinguistic research as being “evident” and “banal”, characterizing many of the conclusions as common knowledge. He approaches sociolinguistics from the point of view of someone who is already in the field of linguistics—thus, for him, the legitimacy of a variety such as African-American English, and the knowledge that such a variety has its own grammar, is something that Chomsky takes for granted, and is an assumption that he utilizes when he dismisses sociolinguistics. He thus criticizes sociolinguistics as a field that “takes no sophistication in linguistics to establish the socially relevant conclusion” (Language and Responsibility 55), and, as we have mentioned in class, Chomsky lumps his work in political science as being under the same category. Chomsky does not characterize himself as a person with any background in political science, and Chomsky believes that to produce work and analysis regarding political science does not require any special training.

While Chomsky is being consistent within his own conception of linguistics, sociolinguistics, sociology, and political science, he nonetheless holds an incorrect viewpoint. His assumption is that sociolinguistic research does not require specialized training in the same way that theoretical linguistic research does. However, that view is questionable. Sociolinguistics does encompass a broad spectrum of various subfields, ranging from theoretically-based sociolinguistics to such subfields as ethnographic linguistics. Phonetics and phonology within sociolinguistics, for instance, require highly specialized training; Chomsky most likely would not dismiss either phonetics or phonology as a valid linguistic field. He appears to have a misguided idea of what sociolinguistics is all about, and his misconception of the field colors his views toward it.

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