These comments are taken from the ongoing exchange between Goran H & me re my Hall Of Shame 12. I am re-posting them as new posts because they are not really relevant to Hall Of Shame 12 and might thus be missed.
I do not see how Goran H comes to the view that a child learns its language slowly and with difficulty; as I said, inter-species comparison is not available, and as far as I can see no decisive reasons have been offered for being surprised either at how quickly or at how slowly first languages are learned (Chomskyans adduce ‘degenerate data’, implying that children do not receive enough specific information about their soon-to-be first language, but this claim has itself been disputed).
Of course, my own work is NOT itself ‘strange linguistics’ (‘fringe linguistics’, etc); it is ‘skeptical linguistics’ (skeptical comment on strange linguistics). Obviously I have an INTEREST in ‘strange linguistics’; otherwise I would probably not publish on it. But it is important to distinguish between critical/skeptical discussion and the material at which this discussion is directed.
This use of the term ‘skeptical’ (American in origin, hence the spelling) is distinct from the more general use of the term ‘sceptical’ (nowadays usually so spelled in the UK and Australasia). The more general term WOULD seem to exclude comment upon ideas which the writer was convinced were ‘nonsense’. (One is reminded of Berkeley’s dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, where the latter character denies that he is sceptical about the existence of matter because he is already altogether convinced that matter does not exist and that the idea of matter is absurd.) But other critics (skeptics) might not agree that the ideas in question in a given case (e.g. Chomskyan linguistics) were so clearly absurd as to be described as ‘nonsense’. And, even if they did agree, this would not exclude those ideas from specifically skeptical comment. Indeed, a high percentage of skeptical writing (on linguistics and more generally) deals with ‘extreme fringe’ ideas which do clearly appear (to the writers in question, at least) to be ‘nonsense’.
I myself agree with Chomsky’s view that there is an infinite number of sentences in each language. I do not think that Goran’s argument against this holds up For example, a series of tokens of one construction, or tokens of a series of constructions, can be ‘nested’ or ‘embedded’ indefinitely within each other, as in the poem This Is The House That Jack Built. Not only the constructions but (with suitable word-choice) many of the nouns, verbs etc can be repeated an indefinite number of times. The restrictions on sentence-length involve short-term memory, not strictly linguistic factors, and where the nesting/embedding is at the end of the sentence even memory is not necessarily a factor.
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