Synopses & Reviews
When it was first published in 1957, Noam Chomsky's Syntactic Structure
seemed to be just a logical expansion of the reigning approach to linguistics. Soon, however, there was talk from Chomsky and his associates about plumbing mental structure; then there was a new phonology; and then there was a new set of goals for the field, cutting it off completely from its anthropological roots and hitching it to a new brand of psychology. Rapidly, all of Chomsky's ideas swept the field. While the entrenched linguists were not looking for a messiah, apparently many of their students were. There was a revolution, which colored the field of linguistics for the following decades.
Chomsky's assault on Bloomfieldianism (also known as American Structuralism) and his development of Transformational-Generative Grammar was promptly endorsed by new linguistic recruits swelling the discipline in the sixties. Everyone was talking of a scientific revolution in linguistics, and major breakthroughs seemed imminent, but something unexpected happened--Chomsky and his followers had a vehement and public falling out.
In The Linguistic Wars, Randy Allen Harris tells how Chomsky began reevaluating the field and rejecting the extensions his students and erstwhile followers were making. Those he rejected (the Generative Semanticists) reacted bitterly, while new students began to pursue Chomsky's updated vision of language. The result was several years of infighting against the backdrop of the notoriously prickly sixties.
The outcome of the dispute, Harris shows, was not simply a matter of a good theory beating out a bad one. The debates followed the usual trajectory of most large-scale clashes, scientific or otherwise. Both positions changed dramatically in the course of the dispute--the triumphant Chomskyan position was very different from the initial one; the defeated generative semantics position was even more transformed. Interestingly, important features of generative semantics have since made their way into other linguistic approaches and continue to influence linguistics to this very day. And fairly high up on the list of borrowers is Noam Chomsky himself.
The repercussions of the Linguistics Wars are still with us, not only in the bruised feelings and late-night war stories of the combatants, and in the contentious mood in many quarters, but in the way linguists currently look at language and the mind. Full of anecdotes and colorful portraits of key personalities, The Linguistics Wars is a riveting narrative of the course of an important intellectual controversy, and a revealing look into how scientists and scholars contend for theoretical glory.
"I enjoyed The Linguistics Wars immensely. Randy Harris writes with erudition and wit and always succeeds in presenting a balanced view of the controversies that have raged in the history of generative grammar. He made me reconsider a number of positions that I have argued for in my own work; typically, even where I remained in disagreement with him, he made me appreciate a complexity to the issues that I had overlooked."--Frederick J. Newmeyer, author of The Politics of Linguistics and Linguistic Theory of America
"In this evenhanded, trenchant and witty academic chronicle, Harris looks at the fierce, acrimonious controversies that have rocked linguistics since the 1950s."--Publishers Weekly
"Through his deep and extensive research, Randy Allen Harris has managed to throw new light on the schism in generative linguistics which indelibly colored the period from the late sixties to the late seventies. His insightful account of this period and the major figures involved reveals many new aspects of the disagreements and disputes at issue and the features of fact, theory and personality which underlay them. Future study of this period in linguistics will surely be shaped by this excellent work, which captures very closely the feel of what went on. I am inclined to say that the level of scholarship which the author manifests on nearly every page in many ways puts to shame that of much of the material he deals with."--Paul M. Postal [Note: no affiliation, per author request]
"Highly informative and entertaining....Highly recommended for all libraries, essential for academic libraries."--Choice
"Harris has captured the flavour and fervour of the [linguistic] debates to perfection....[He] has achieved the near impossible: being fair to both sides in a civil war."--Nature
"This is intellectual drama crossed with a Shakespearean history play."--The Sciences
This text is based on lectures given by the author at the advanced undergaraduate and graduate levels in Measure theory, Functional Analysis, Bannach Algebras, Spectral Theory (of bounded and unbounded operators), Semigroups of Operators, Probability and Mathematical Statistics, and Partial
Differential Equations. The first 10 chapters discuss theoretical methods in Measure Theory and Functional Analysis and contain over 120 end of chapter exercises. the final two chapters apply theory to applications in Probability Theory and Partial Differential Equations.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 311-340) and index.
About the Author
' About the Author - Randy Allen Harris is Associate Professor of English at the University of Waterloo.