Corpora: Chomsky and corpus linguistics

From: Christopher Bader (cbader@MIT.EDU)
Date: Fri Apr 06 2001 - 20:05:32 MET DST

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    Thanks to Mike Maxwell, like Samson, taking up the jawbone of an ass
    against the Philistines :)

    In a recent lecture, Chomsky himself made the bird/707 argument:
    Specifically, he argued that although the human body might serve
    as proof that it would be possible to design a forklift, it would be
    completely absurd to base a forklift on the human body.

    I want to make two additional points.

    1. It is simply wrong to contend that Chomsky has contributed
    nothing to language technology. His work in the 1950's and '60's
    laid part of the foundation for formal language theory. See any
    textbook on automata and theory of computation, on the Chomsky
    Hierarchy or Chomsky Normal Form.

    2. In his more recent work, Chomsky distinguishes between
    the E-language (e.g. the set of all grammatical sentences)
    and the I-language (the human language faculty). Generative
    grammarians study the latter; corpus linguists, the former.
    The Chomsky Hierarchy and Chomsky Normal Form are
    of course concepts pertaining to the E-language, not to
    the I-language, which is why Chomsky no longer works
    in this area.

    Since generative linguists and computational linguists
    have fundamentally different objects of study, it is not
    surprising that they sometimes have trouble understanding
    each other's work. I urge people on this list who are interested
    in Chomsky's actual views to read Knowledge of Language:
    Its Nature, Origin, and Use (1986). It lays out in well-reasoned,
    non-technical prose the arguments for the E-language/I-language

    Christopher Bader
    Dept. of Linguistics and Philosophy
    MIT E39-245
    Cambridge MA 02139

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