Metaglossia: The Translation World
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Metaglossia: The Translation World
News about translation, interpreting, intercultural communication, terminology and lexicography - as it happens
Curated by Charles Tiayon
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1st intl. conference on applied linguistics & literature held in Gaza

The American linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky arrived in the Gaza strip on Thursday night, received by the Islamic University of Gaza, to take part in 1...!
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Noam Chomsky to speak at Lexington Depot

Lexington —
State Rep. Jay Kaufman will host his second OPEN HOUSE public policy forum of the season with special guest and internationally acclaimed scholar Noam Chomsky. This special forum will be held Monday, Oct. 15, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Lexington Depot Building, 13 Depot Square, in Lexington Center.
Chomsky, who is a Lexington resident, is an Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he teaches linguistics. His theory of transformational grammar revolutionized the study of language. His analyses, speeches and books on history, politics and economics have been widely translated and widely read.
Kaufman has asked Chomsky to reflect on the lessons and legacy of Occupy Wall Street and on the state of politics and statecraft on Capitol Hill and Beacon Hill. Attendees are encouraged to bring questions to the forum.

Read more: Noam Chomsky to speak at Lexington Depot - Lexington, MA - Lexington Minuteman!
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The Unlimited Novelty Of Language?

What are people doing when they're speaking a language?

According to Tufts University linguist Ray Jackendoff, writing in his new book:

"They're making complex sounds that express their thoughts. Words are part of the system in people's heads that they use to build messages."

Jackendoff is quick to add:

"Speakers are constantly expressing all sorts of new thoughts by making new sounds."

He gives some examples of things his wife and daughter have said, such as "I'm all Olympic'd out," and "This is the kind of house that people sell their big houses in Belmont and downsize to." These are sentences they made up on the spot. Neither they nor (probably) you or I had ever heard them before or had ever thought those thoughts. Yet they were produced spontaneously, and you can understand them effortlessly.

Jackendoff's point — this is not original to him — is that our grip on language gives us unlimited expressive power.

This fact of linguistic creativity plays a pivotal role in an argument that, in Jackendoff's words, "serves as the foundational premise of modern linguistics." (He goes on to note that the argument is Chomsky's and that he's made it in myriad publications.) The argument in question goes roughly like this: the only way to explain our open-ended ability to cope with linguistic novelty is to suppose that "in our heads" there is a system of rules that governs the combination and recombination of words into well-formed sentences. To know a language is to have a "mental grammar."

There is something ironic in the fact that Jackendoff explains linguistic creativity by repeating what Chomsky and others have written elsewhere in myriad publications.

But is it even true? It is striking that Jackendoff doesn't offer anything more in defense of the claim about unlimited novelty than I have repeated here. Is this such a straight forward matter? Is it just self-evident that the examples of Jackendoff's wife and daughter demonstrate the existence of the linguistic creativity that plays such an important role in laying the foundations of linguistic theory?!
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On Chomsky and the Two Cultures of Statistical Learning

At the Brains, Minds, and Machines symposium held during MIT's 150th birthday party, Technology Review reports that Prof. Noam Chomsky
MIT: 150
derided researchers in machine learning who use purely statistical methods to produce behavior that mimics something in the world, but who don't try to understand the meaning of that behavior.
The transcript is now available, so let's quote Chomsky himself:
It's true there's been a lot of work on trying to apply statistical models to various linguistic problems. I think there have been some successes, but a lot of failures. There is a notion of success ... which I think is novel in the history of science. It interprets success as approximating unanalyzed data.
This essay discusses what Chomsky said, speculates on what he might have meant, and tries to determine the truth and importance of his claims.!
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‘Language: The Cultural Tool,’ by Daniel L. Everett

Language isn’t innate, Daniel L. Everett argues. It’s a tool that can be reinvented, or lost.


How humans learn language is much more easily accounted for by psychologists than the Chomskyans claim. Surely our brains and bodies have evolved to optimize our language abilities. However, no one supposes that our skill on bikes indicates a “bicycling organ.” Rather, language piggy­backs on vocal apparatuses and regions of the brain that evolved for other purposes in our animal forebears. Everett makes a case for language having arisen as a combination of three elements: “Cognition + Culture + Communication.”

“Language: The Cultural Tool,” full of intellectually omnivorous insights and reminiscences about Everett’s years with the Pirahã (which he memorably described in “Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes”), is that rare thing: a warm linguistics book. The quiet smile perfusing his writing is all the more admirable given the criticisms he has endured from linguists wedded to the He-jumping school of thought. This nonconfrontational quality has its disadvantages, though. Everett covers Chomskyan syntax largely in passing, referring to it as “highly technical” and choosing not to dwell on its machinery, even to the extent I have here. This saps his argument of a certain force. To the uninitiated, “technical” alone may sound innocuous and even attractive, not like something to argue against for 300 pages.!
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