On the 8th of March 1994 Dr. Konrad Koerner gave a seminar at La Trobe University, based on his pages 101-146 from Practising Linguistic Historiography (1989, John Benjamins Publishing Company). The effect of the presentation was profound. Afterward Dr. Koerner kindly gave permission to publish extracts of the text in Dhumbadji!. Given the intense interest of MAHL members in the subject matter, and Dr. Koerner's excellent international reputation, it is with great pleasure that we reproduce below a portion of the text presented on that day.
[They] rewrite history for their own justification [...]. The Soviet example, though not the first, is the most familiar and one of the most thorough. First the old order must be condemned en bloc; everything about it must be shown to have been bad to justify its overthrow and prevent its return. Then any changes of direction of the new order must be consigned to oblivion. [...] Finally, it becomes desirable to show that the new order is in reality not so much new as a return to the correct, traditional ways, from which only the immediately preceding regime had been a deviation and a usurpation. Along the way there may have been a return to many features of that same preceding regime. These will not, however, be represented as regressions but as new developments.For those who have observed the history of transformational-generative linguistics in North America unfolding during the past twenty-five or more years, Izzo's description of a 'social revolution' appears to apply quite well to what actually happened. (For at least some examples of TG propaganda, see below.)
Fashion is by no means trivial. It is the form of the dominance of the group over the individual, and it is quite often as harmful as beneficial. There is no arguing with fashion. [...] The authority of fashion is imperative as to everything which it touches. The sanctions are ridicule and powerlessness. The dissenter hurts himself ... (Sumner 1906:194).While a consideration of the effects of fashion in linguistics (as in any other human affair) is not to be ignored, I believe that this aspect may cloud some of the issues rather than elucidate them. It is certainly difficult to believe that it was only the particular theoretical proposals of transformational-generative grammar (henceforth: TGG) which appealed to the young students of language who entered university during the sixties and early seventies. Newmeyer (1980:52ff.) presents statistics, of which in particular the table concerning the growth of the membership in the Linguistic Society of America indicates the tremendous academic population explosion of the period: l950: 829 members; 1960: 1,768 members, and 1970: 4,383 members, with the peak having been reached in 1971 (4,723 members). For Newmeyer, this growth reflects the appeal and strength of the 'Chomskyan paradigm'; however, when this development levels off and shows a decline, he explains this as the result of the bleak employment picture in linguistics (Newmeyer 1980:53). Here one is constrained to ask 'Why not a reflection of a widespread disenchantment with TGG?', since Newmeyer earlier (p.52) regarded the membership increase in the LSA as being "considerably above the average [compared to which other discipline?], suggesting that it was the appeal of transformational generative grammar rather than economic growth".
Murray (1981:109) saw the reasons for this dramatic expansion (in addition to the general growth of institutions of secondary and postsecondary education) in what he describes as
the zeitgeist of a rebellious generation coming along at the time of rapid expansion of the academic sector in North America. The channeling of so much of the available money to an institution [i.e., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in particular the Linguistics Department there] where it was astutely used by accomplished academic warriors further enhanced the attractiveness of a perspective in which the elders were dismissed just when generational rebellion was particularly prominent in the general culture.In other words, TGG would not and could not have gained in strength to the extent that it did during the 1960s and early 1970s if there had not been other, major, factors bringing the 'Chomskyan revolution' about.
I maintain that government subsidisation of research and education, regardless of how benevolently and fairly it is administered, increases the likelihood of scientific revolutions for the worse, since it makes it possible for a subcommunity to increase its membership drastically without demonstrating that its intellectual credit so warrants. The kind of development that I have in mind is illustrated by the rapid growth of American universities during the late 1950s and 1960s, stimulated by massive spending by the federal government. This spending made is possible for many universities to start linguistics programs that otherwise would not have been started or would not have been started so early, or to expand existing programs much further than they would otherwise have been expanded. Given the situation of the early 1960s, it was inevitable that a large proportion of the new teaching jobs in linguistics would go to transformational grammarians. In the case of new programs, since at that time transformational grammar was the kind of linguistics in which it was most obvious that new and interesting things were going on, many administrators would prefer to get a transformational grammarian to organise the new program; in the case of expansion of existing programs, even when those who had charge of the new funds would not speculate their personal intellectual capital on the new theory, it was to their advantage to speculate their newfound monetary capital on it, since if the new theory was going to become influential, a department would have to offer instruction in it if the department was to attract students in numbers that were in keeping with its newfound riches. And with the first couple of bunches of students turned out by the holders of these new jobs, the membership of the transformational subcommunity swelled greatly. (McCawley 1976b:25)Such a long quotation is justified for a number of reasons, especially since it provides readers not familiar with the thinking and operation of North American university administrators with at least some insight. Naturally, the informed reader would like to underscore particular passages in the citation, comment on certain points of detail, and draw further conclusions from the observations made; but it generally well characterises both the mentality of administrators (frequently académiques manqués eager to be seen as progressive) and the particular situation they found themselves in, just at the time when Chomsky's ideas began to gain notoriety, though not exclusively for reasons directly related to linguistics, as I shall try to argue in this paper. In McCawley's account there seems to be a lurking suspicion that the rapid growth of TGG may have had something to do with a fad (cf. Maher's observations in section 1.1.1 above), a suspicion I had during my graduate years in linguistics at a North American university in the late 1960s.
It is characteristic of ideology both to exalt action and to regard action in terms of a military analogy. Some observers have pointed out that one has only to consider the prose style of the founders of most ideologies to be struck by the military and warlike language that they habitually use, including words like struggle, resist, march, victory and overcome; the literature of ideology is replete with martial expressions. In such a view, commitment to an ideology becomes a form of enlistment so that become the adherent of an ideology is to become a combatant or partisan.During the late 1960s and early 1970s, many enthusiasts of TGG spoke of a revolution in linguistics (cf. in addition to those mentioned at the outset of section l.0 above: Dingwall 1971:759; Greene 1972:189; Yergin 1972). It is interesting to note that more recent publications that maintain the same argument (e.g., Smith & Wilson 1979:10; Newmeyer 1980:20) no longer make an explicit reference to Kuhn's (1962) book on scientific revolutions, perhaps because the ideas therein appear to them as a chose acquise that need no longer be demonstrated. As a matter f fact, I suggested the existence of something like a 'Chomskyan Paradigm' as early as 1972 (cf. Koerner 1976:703) because I was of the opinion (and still am) that with Chomsky and his circle a definite shift of emphasis in the goals of linguistic theory was brought about which superficially at least seemed dramatic enough to resemble Kuhn's concepts of disciplinary 'paradigm' and 'revolution'. These changes in the general approach to language and, concomitantly, the philosophy of science, were probably not in all respects beneficial to linguistic studies as a whole. Yet it cannot be denied that a number of proposals, procedures of analysis and concepts of theoretical argument have become part of the linguist's tool-kit and general outlook, which no one seriously interested in theory construction can any longer ignore (though linguistic practitioners, i.e., those conducting empirical research instead of selecting data from the work of others that might confirm their theoretical claims, may well have been able to do without them). In other words, whether we like it or not, we will have to agree that noticeable changes, in the linguist's attitude towards language and within the linguistic discipline itself, did take place during the past twenty-five or so years, changes which a number of people have likened to a 'revolution' in the Kuhnian sense of the term (cf. Pearson 1978, for a discussion).
However, we may ask ourselves whether these changes of focus and emphasis, this introduction of new terminology (frequently replacing traditional terms describing the same phenomena), and this 'idealisation' --- which Newmeyer (1980:250) invokes to support his (in my estimation outrageous) claim that "more has been learned about the nature of language in the last 25 years than in the previous 2500" --- have indeed produced something like a revolution in the field necessitating, as it were, not just a new outfitting of every linguist's operating kit but also a relearning of the trade. In fact, a closer analysis of what was really done by linguistic practitioners (not by armchair theoreticians who tend to ignore data that could disconfirm their hypotheses) in North America and in Europe during the same period may well bring to light the following: (1) A number of linguistic schools continued their existence (e.g., Tagmemics, largely associated with the work of Kenneth Lee Pike and his collaborators, and Systemic Grammar, a neo-Firthian approach headed by Michael A. K. Halliday, as well as Stratificational Grammar, introduced by Sydney M. Lamb during the 1960s); indeed, several of these schools have been thriving in recent years, suggesting not only that there has not been one allembracing theoretical framework operating in North-American linguistics during the past 30 years (as Newmeyer and others want us to believe), but also that the paradigma fostered by TGG has long since lost its attraction for, and grip on, the minds of many present-day linguists. (2) TGG provoked to no small degree the development of approaches to language which have tried to account for specifically those aspects of language study (e.g., human communication, social conditioning, and actual language use --- Chomsky's talk about the latter notwithstanding), which the Chomskyan model consistently eliminated from its list of 'interesting' phenomena. Thus the revival of interest in discourse analysis, speech pragmatics, and various sociolinguistic approaches since the late 1960s would probably not have been as pronounced had the 'Chomskyan Paradigm' not focussed so one-sidedly on abstract 'data' (usually made up by the analyst to support a theoretical argument) far removed from actual speech.
In short --- and as will become still clearer from what follows --- it seems that, upon closer inspection, the term 'revolution' does not properly apply to TGG. Despite many disclaimers, TGG is basically postSaussurean structuralism --- Joos (1961:17) characterised this movement, with he associated with the work of Harris and Chomsky, "as a heresy within the neo-Saussurean tradition rather than a competition to it" --- with an excessive concern with 'langue', the underlying grammatical system, to the detriment of 'parole', the actual speech act; or, in other terms, with an abstract formalism claiming to represent the essence of language structure instead of the analysis of the function and use of human language. (It is often forgotten that formalisation by itself does not lead to new insights about the nature of language.) However, it cannot be denied that many young men and women in linguistics during the 1960s and 1970s believed that they were witnessing a revolution in the field, and it appears that this widespread belief (and the associated enthusiasm that young people tend to generate) has been at the bottom of the 'Chomskyan revolution'. (Some of the participants in the 'revolution' I have talked still today get a gleam in the eye when they recount their recollections of linguistics in the 1960s.)
To do justice to historical fact, it should be remembered that --- like Curtius, who in 1885 felt that the Neogrammarians had embarked on a course that constituted a break with the past (cf. Koerner 1981:168-169) --- there were scholars of the post-Bloomfieldian generation who, at least during the early 1960s, conceived of TGG as a 'breakthrough' (Hockett 1965:196; although he associated it with the name of Sydney M. Lamb as well!). Earlier, in 1963, Rulon S. Wells (b.1919) expressed a similar apprehension of change when he spoke of "some neglected opportunities in descriptive linguistics". Wells (1963:48), however, approached the subject somewhat more cautiously:
Whether the change that actually took place --- the advent of and eager reception of the approach called transformation-theory --- should be described as internal or external, as a revision and rehabilitation of D[descriptive] L[linguistics] or as a displacement of it, is no simple one, for which reason I save it for another day. Some major change did take place; the episode ended; and the present paper is a historian's attempt to explain the change. It does not, however, purport to explain the advent of transformation-theory (TT), but only the reception of it. Given The TT-approach was put forward when it was, why was it taken up in the way it was?Wells, whose own paper on 'constituent analysis' of 1947 may be credited for having gone beyond the mere descriptive stage of post-Bloomfieldian linguistics, feels the "norm of pure description [which] was the Zeitgeist in the thirties and forties" (p.49) was to blame for the abandonment of the merely descriptive in favour of a more explanatory approach in the l950s and 1960s, and the switch from DL to TGG. Sydney M. Lamb (b. 1929), a theory-oriented linguist of Chomsky's age, found that one of the shortcomings of the post-Bloomfieldians was their excessive concern "with trying to specify procedures of analysis" (Lamb 1967:414) --- Zellig Harris' Methods in Structural Linguistics of 1951 immediately comes to mind here. It seems however that extralinguistic matters (i.e., what may be called changes in the intellectual climate) had more to do with the rise of TGG in the period than the problems that beset the, at times, extreme positivist tendency of linguistic analysis among Bloomfield's successors.
It would be laborious beyond the ambitions of my paper to describe this way with any great accuracy; it must suffice to say that there arose a very widespread belief that TT, the successor to DL, could lead linguistics to fruitful successes where its predecessor had proved unable to do so. My own judgment as a linguist about such a belief is that mixed in with a solid core of truth there is much that is false, gratuitous, or misleading. but in the present paper I try to set aside my own views as a linguist, and to speak only as a historian of linguistics, without taking sides.
There is however at least one factor that can be fairly easily identified and is related to the widespread acceptance of TGG during the 1960s and early 1970s --- the funding of university programs during that period. We have already referred to this subject (see 1.1.2 above), and quoted from a 1976 statement made by James McCawley concerning the impact of the National Defence Education Act (passed by the United States government in late 1958) on linguistics (cf. also Mildenberger 1962). As a matter of fact, Newmeyer --- who now tends to downplay the role of the large sums of money that were poured into all sorts of linguistic research during the 1960s --- documented, in a paper done with his partner Joseph Emonds in 1971, that these monies in effect constituted "a great shot-in-the-arm to the field of linguistics" (p.287). (In Newmeyer's 1986 Linguistics and Politics no reference to this quite revealing paper can be found.)
In what follows, I will try to illustrate the point with the help of just three examples, though they could be multiplied almost ad libitum. One is the statement made by Chomsky himself in an interview in 1971; the other two are public acknowledgments of funding. All three suggest the extent the financial aspect played in the expansion of linguistics in general, and the success of TGG in particular.
Asked about the question of funding and the reason why Syntactic Structures and many other works of his contained acknowledgments of support from agencies of the U.S. Defence Department, Chomsky replied:
Ever since the Second World War, the Defence Department has been the main channel for the support of the universities, because Congress and society as a whole have been unwilling to provide adequate public funds [...]. Luckily, Congress doesn't look too closely at the Defence Department budget, and the Defence Department, which is a vast and complex organisation, doesn't look closely at the projects it supports --- its right hand doesn't know what its left hand is doing. Until 1969, more than half the M.I.T. budget came from the Defence Department, but this funding at M.I.T. is a bookkeeping trick. Although I'm a full-time teacher, M.I.T. pays only thirty or forty per cent of my salary. The rest comes from other sources --- most of it from the Defence Department. But I get the money through M.I.T. (Mehta 1971:193)I am not quoting Chomsky's account to 'raise the moral index finger' (as we say in German) but to give an idea of the tremendous non-academic involvement in the funding of research, including work not visibly (at least to an outsider) connected with military interests. (Newmeyer & Emonds [1971:301] noted that a "result of the reliance on outside funding agencies is the occasional deliberate falsification of the nature of linguistic work.") It should be remembered that one of the major projects of the Defence Department during the 1950s was machine translation, and that M.I.T. had a major stake in it (cf. Locke & Booth 1955). Morris Halle, Chomsky's supporter and ally, for instance acknowledged the kind of support that existed there at the time:
During the past eight years [i.e., since 1951: KK] it has been my great and good fortune to be associated with the Research Laboratory of Electronics, M.I.T. This unique research organization has been an ideal environment in which to carry on investigations that overlap a number of traditional boundaries between disciplines. (Halle 1959: 15)Needless to add that Halle, like Chomsky, was in a comparatively sheltered position during the 1950s. (Who nowadays obtain a four-year fellowship with no other strings attached than to pursue independent research, and who would be employed, several years before completing one's Ph.D., in a similar position at M.I.T.?) That the funds which were received by the Research Laboratory of Electronics and later also by the Department of Linguistics, founded at M.I.T. in 1961, were used for proselytising purposes as well, may be deduced from the number of acknowledgements of support by workers in linguistics. That at least part of these funds was intended to convert young students to the new faith may be surmised from the acknowledgement printed at the bottom of Robert Lees' widely acclaimed 'review' of Syntactic Structures (Lees 1957:375), which was written and published while Lees was a close associate and, for all practical purposes, still a doctoral student of Chomsky's at M.I.T. (Lees 1960 constitutes his dissertation published shortly after its completion.) owing to the godfatherly attitude that Bernard Bloch displayed (cf. Murray 1980), Lees' propaganda piece for Chomsky's ideas appeared in Language (still today the most widely circulated linguistics journal in the world) almost at the same time Syntactic Structures itself was published. (Under normal circumstances, a review would take two and more years to appear in print following the publication of a book; also one may wonder if Lees was indeed the sole author of the 'review', considering his employment situation at the time. But even if the arguments were all Lees' own, as Chomsky emphatically maintained in a letter to the present writer commenting on Koerner (1984b), it can be at least assumed that Chomsky --- and probably Halle too --- had seen and approved the text before it was sent to Bloch. (That Lees had published a paper in Language as early as 1953, and thus established previous contact with Bloch, cannot serve as a convincing counter-argument.)
The question of 'revolutionary rhetoric' will occupy us in section 1.3 (below); however, in the present context we may refer to Jerrold J. Katz's (1964) apprenticeship piece in this area entitled "Mentalism in Linguistics". Together with Paul M. Postal's Constituent Structure of the same year, it set the stage for the transformationalists polemics against the so-called taxonomists (a term created by Chomsky [1964:11]) or, as Voegelin & Voegelin (1963:12-13) characterised the phenomenon, Katz's paper embarked on the 'controversial stance' with a view to establishing the 'eclipsing stance'. Chomsky had given the signal for this kind of attack in 1957 (cf. Voegelin 1958:229). It is interesting to note that in Katz's piece the linguistics of the elder scholars was not attacked, but rather what Katz made out to be their particular view of science. In other words, ideological questions appear to have offered a more promising forum for his attack than actual linguistic analyses of the Bloomfieldians from whom Chomsky himself had learned his craft. Katz's paper, which Bloch, the Bloomfieldian stalwart, accepted for publication in Language, though it contains little that may be termed research, has the following acknowledgement:
This work was supported in part by the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force under Contract DA36-O39-AMC-032OO(E); in part by the U.S. Air Force, ESD Contract AF 19(628)-2887; and in part by the National Science Foundation (Grant G-16S26), the National Institutes of Health (Grant MHO4737-O3), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Grant NsG-496). This paper, although based on work sponsored in part by the U.S. Air Force, has not been approved or disapproved by that agency. (Katz 1964:124, n.*)In addition to public acknowledgements such as these, other documents (e.g., the annual report of the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C.) could be cited to show the magnitude of the financial support received by major universities and in particular by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which can be fairly said to have built its flourishing Linguistics Department from a rather mediocre Department of Modern Languages on the strength of the tremendous sums of money that flowed into its coffers during the 1960s and early 1970s. While it would be unfair to say that money alone has made the success story of TGG possible --- to maintain such a view would mean to deny the existence of human resourcefulness and creativity (not in the Chomskyan sense, nota bene!) --- nevertheless every researcher knows the importance of funding for any project s/he might conceive.
In order to map out this intellectual climate fully, the historiographer would have to interview the participants in the discussions held during the period, especially at those public meetings which were regarded as important by the strategists of 'modern linguistics' (a term dear to TGG; cf. Smith & Wilson 1979). These professional meetings include the Ninth International Congress of Linguists held in Cambridge, Massachusetts in August 1962, and various other meetings in North America thereafter, especially the semiannual meetings of the Linguistic Society of America, which, as we know, provided handy forums for public debates and even attacks on the views of others not bowing to the new theory. This is admitted by adherents of the Chomsky school (cf. the references to Newmeyer's accounts below), and needs no further documentation in the present paper; instead, I would like to raise some questions concerning the 1962 International Congress held at Harvard and M.I.T (for the first time in the history of this organization outside Europe). Was it really "sheer coincidence", as Newmeyer (1980:51) claims, that the Congress was held at Cambridge, Mass., with Morris Halle and William N. Locke, then chairman of the M.I.T.'s Modern Languages Department, on the local arrangements committee? (In fact, Locke also held the position of Secretary General of the Congress and Halle the post of secretary of the Executive Committee according to the information supplied in Lunt [1964:v].) And what happened to Joshua Whatmough (1897-1964) of Harvard, who "was the chief figure in securing the invitation for the 9th International Congress to meet in the United States, and who was instrumental in obtaining two substantial grants for support of that congress" (as Eric P. Hamp reports in Language 42.622, 1966)? And why did Zellig Harris turn down the offer to present one of the five major papers to be given at the Congress' plenary sessions? (The other four scholars, Jerzy Kurylowicz, Emile Benveniste, Andre Martinet, and Nikolaj D. Andreev, were between 52 and 66 years old.) The fact is that Chomsky, less than 35 years of age and without any international exposure until then, was given the spot not taken by his former teacher. It was scarcely an accident that Roman Jakobson, with whom Halle had collaborated and completed his doctorate at Harvard, presented Chomsky at the Congress as the rising star. (An indication of how much Chomsky owed Jakobson may be gathered from his own testimony in A Tribute to Roman Jakobson published in 1983.)
Chomsky's "Logical Basis of Linguistic Theory" presentation was by far the longest of these five plenary papers; it was given as the fifth and last of the plenaries (in seeming deference to the international standing of the other four speakers), but it counted 62 pages in the printed Proceedings in comparison to between 22 (Kurylowicz's paper) and 10 pages (for each of the three remaining plenary speakers). Likewise, the discussion of Chomsky's paper took up 30 pages in contrast to between 5 and 10 pages for the four others. (Comparison between the Preprints of the Congress --- edited by no other person than Morris Halle --- and the Proceedings edited by another former student of Jakobson's, Horace Gray Lunt (b.1918), reveals that Chomsky was given unlimited opportunity subsequent to the Congress to expand on his views and to answer any of the objections raised in these discussions that he considered relevant.) It is interesting to note that it was at this Congress, which was attended by some 950 scholars from all over the world, especially from Europe, that Chomsky talked for the first time about Saussure, Humboldt, and the Port Royal grammar, all the time trying to demonstrate how much his own theory had in common with these hallowed traditions of 17th to l9th century Europe. I believe that it was at this well-orchestrated Congress where Chomsky's appeal to a 'rationalist' tradition underlying his linguistic ideas first attracted the attention of many Europeans to his work. (Before 1962 --- the year when Syntactic Structures was reprinted for the first time, evidently for the International Congress --- few Europeans had taken note of Chomsky.) Murray (1980) appears to have been one of the first scholars to devote particular attention to the socio-political manoeuvres of the TGG group around Chomsky and his early and enduring ally, Morris Halle. It is from him (Murray 1980:88, n.85) that I took the idea of 'rhetoric of revolution', about which I would like to say a few things in what follows. Indeed, Halle's role in the promotion of Noam Chomsky and TGG requires thorough investigation; his talents as organiser and administrator are acknowledged by Newmeyer (1980:39), who unfortunately says nothing about Halle as an academic politician. However, as one visiting fellow at M.I.T. at the time recalls, in the spring and early summer of 1962, prior to the tenure of the International Congress (which took place on 27-31 August), he was "watching Morris Halle plot as if he were Lenin in Zürich" (personal communication).
We may forego here an analysis of what Murray has termed Chomsky's 'publishing woes' and the standard myth of the young Chomsky's intellectual isolation during the 1950s, a claim he never tires of reiterating (cf. Sklar 1968:214; Chomsky 1979:131). As a matter of fact, and contrary to what Newmeyer (1980:34-35) and others have been saying, Murray (1980, 1981) has convincingly established that only one paper by Chomsky was ever rejected, and this by the then editor of Word, André Martinet (b.1908), despite a strong recommendation by the late Uriel Weinreich (1926-1967), the journal's associate editor at the time (cf. Murray 1980:77). But then neither the journal nor the editor subscribed to the Bloomfieldian type of structuralism that was at the bottom of Chomsky's linguistics. Language, the official organ of the Linguistic Society, and with it its long-time editor, Bernard Bloch (1907-1965), supported Chomsky in every possible way. Similar observations could be made about the publication of Chomsky's books; consider Murray's (1980:76-77) account of the fate of The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory, which the author released for publication some twenty years after it had been written, although previous offers to publish it had been made (see also Chomsky's own [1975:3] account of this). As can be gathered from Chomsky's bibliography, he published papers in all recognised outlets in the field, especially in Language and the International Journal of American Linguistics (IJAL) during 1954-1961 (cf. Koerner & Tajima [1986:3-13] for details).
Another important aspect of the success story of TGG during the 1960s had little to do with scholarship. Newmeyer (1980), who regarded it as a commendable feature on the part of the young adherents of TGG, describes it in the following terms (p.50):
The missionary zeal with which "the other guys" were attacked may have led some linguists, along with Wallace Chafe (1970), to be "repelled by the arrogance with which [the generativists'] ideas were propounded [p.2]," but overall the effect was positive. Seeing the leaders or the field constantly on the defensive at every professional meeting helped recruit younger linguists far more successfully and rapidly than would have been the case if the debate had been confined to the journals. [Robert Benjamin] Lees and [Paul Marlin] Postal, in particular, became legends as a result of their uncompromising attacks on every structuralist [i.e., non-TGG]-oriented paper at every meeting.Newmeyer hints that both Chomsky and Morris Halle encouraged students to engage in this type of polemical activity which frequently enough turned into ad-hominem attacks; he also (pp.50-51) concedes that there may have been some excesses:
The combative spirit may have gotten a bit out of hand at times, as even undergraduate advocates of the theory such as Thomas Bever and James Fidelholtz got into the act, embarrassing their teachers as they ruthlessly lit into linguists old enough to be their grandparents.It was in the publications and, in particular, in the public debates of the followers of TGG that the rhetoric of revolution, the claim to novelty, 'creativity', and originality, came to the fore, coupled with the claim of a lack of comprehension and support on the part of the older generation of linguists. Murray (1980) has shown, on the contrary, that support from the elder academics was indeed forthcoming. For instance, Chomsky was invited twice, in 1958 and 1959, to expound his theories at conferences on the structure of English held at the University of Texas at Austin. If we are to believe Newmeyer (1980:46), however, Archibald Hill (b.1902), the organiser and host of these conferences had invited Chomsky for the express purpose of "confronting it [i.e., TGG] directly with the intent of snufing it out before any serious damage could be done [to Bloomfieldian structuralism]". Anyone familiar with Hill as a person would find this hard to believe, and everyone interested in verifying what happened at the 1958 conference may read the faithfully transcribed discussion following the presentation of each paper. "Here", according to Newmeyer (1980:35),
we can see the history documented as nowhere else --- Chomsky, the enfant terrible, taking on some of the giants of the field and making them look like rather confused students in a beginning linguistics course.Personally, I do not notice any 'giant' in the roster of speakers, but it is clear from the proceedings (Hill 1962) that Chomsky was little interested in compromise; instead, he sought ways to make his ideas look controversial, because in his words "they go to the root of the problem and give radical answers", as he later claimed in an interview, where he expounded on his general attitude as follows:
Even before I came to M.I.T. [i.e., 1955], I was told that my work would arouse much less antagonism if I didn't always couple my presentation of transformational grammar with a sweeping attack on empiricists and behaviourists and on other linguists. A lot of kind older people who were well disposed toward me told me I should slick my own work and leave other people alone. But that struck me as an anti-intellectual counsel. (Mehta 1971: 190-191)It is clear from this statement (as well as others made by Chomsky publicly and privately) that the new theory was to be presented in a polemical fashion. However, during the 1950s and even until the mid-1960s, most American linguists of the older generation were well disposed not only toward Chomsky as a person but also toward his theory. The Bloomfieldian descriptivists felt that Chomsky's syntactic theory was extending their own endeavours, and the fact that he had done his doctorate with Zellig Harris at Pennsylvania persuaded them to believe that he was one of theirs. Despite the attacks on the old Guard by Chomsky and his associates, the fairly positive attitude of the older generation of scholars (which included not only the 'Bloomfieldians' but the 'Sapirians' as well) did not noticeably change until Halle and Chomsky began attacking their work in phonology, an area typically ignored in Newmeyer's (1980) survey of TGG. We may refer to the exchange between Householder (1965) and Chomsky & Halle (1965), as well as Hockett's verdict about "Chomskyan-Hallean 'phonology' ", which, in his opinion (Hockett 1968a:3), was "completely bankrupt". Hockett had earlier (1965:187) indicated his reactions to the style of Young Turks like Lees:
We do not enjoy being told that we are fools. We can shrug off an imprecation from a religious fanatic, because it does not particularly worry us that every such nut is sure he holds the only key to salvation. But when a respected colleague holds our cherished opinions up to ridicule, there is always the sneaking suspicion that he may be right.Although Hockett was referring to Lees' review of Syntactic Structures and the introductory remarks Lees had made in his Grammar of English Nominalisations (1960), the real bone of contention was phonology and the phoneme concept, as Murray (1981:110-111) has pointed out; compare Archibald A. Hill's observation:
I think that if one can speak of partial survival [in the revolution of Chomskyan and post-Chomskyan linguistics], I have partially survived it. [...].I could stay with the Transformationalists pretty well, until they attacked my darling, the phoneme. I will never be a complete transformationalist because I am still a phonemicist. (Hill 1980:75)Hill's statement is an important document for the historian of linguistics since it dispels the widely accepted myth that it was the early work on syntax that had revolutionised linguistics (and antagonised the older generation). Note Bierwisch's (1971:45) affirmation: "When Chomsky published Syntactic Structures in 1957, structural linguistics entered a new phase". Newmeyer goes a few steps further, trying to establish the view that in fact a revolution was taking place at that time, and that it began in 1955, when Chomsky had completed his "truly incredible work of the highest degree of creativity", i.e., his study The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory (henceforth LSLT), which "completely shattered the prevailing structuralist conception of linguistic theory" (Newmeyer 1980:35). Newmeyer does not adduce much evidence to support his claim, something which would be difficult to do since this bulky work was published only twenty years later (Chomsky 1975). In his 1986 paper on 'the Chomskyan revolution' Newmeyer (p.8) now concedes that Bernard Bloch, "arguably the most influential linguist of the period, concretely abetted Chomsky and his theory in a number of ways", as Murray (1980) had clearly documented earlier (see also Newmeyer [1980.47-48] for an early indication of Bloch's support of TGG).
As a matter of fact, by the mid-sixties the North American linguistic scene was much like the characterisation that Sydney Lamb gave it in his review of Current Issues in Linguistic Theory and Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (Chomsky 1964, 1965):
The prevailing attitudes are of two different types. Older-generation linguists, upon encountering some of these pages [in Chomsky 1964 and 1965], will stare with incredulity and no little irritation at the distortions and misunderstandings of their ideas and practices and those of their colleagues; while students who never knew what neo-Bloomfieldian linguistics was really like, and those from fields outside linguistics, are led to the false impression that all linguists before Chomsky (except, of course, Humboldt, Sapir, and a few other candidates for canonisation) were hopelessly misguided bumblers, from whose inept clutches Chomsky has heroically rescued the field of linguistics. (Lamb 1967:414)No doubt the fact that a great many, if not most, of the Ph.D. students that arrived at M.I.T. during the mid-1960s came from fields outside linguistics such as chemistry (e.g., Lees, James A. Foley), mathematics (e.g., McCawley), and other sciences (e.g., Terence Langendoen, S.B., M.l.T., 1961) and, as a result, had no prior exposure to, and no previous theoretical commitments within, linguistics, fostered this view of things as described by Lamb.
Koerner, E[rnst] F[rideryk] Konrad. 1970. "Bloomfieldian Linguistics and the Problem of `Meaning': A chapter in the history of the theory and study of language". Jahrbuch für Amerikastudien 15.162-183. (Repr. in Koerner 1978.155-176)
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Newmeyer, Frederick J[aret]. 1980. Linguistic Theory in American: The first quarter of transformational generative grammar. New York. Academic Press. (2nd rev. and enlarged ed., 1986.)
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