The Real Nature of "Chomskyan Revolution"

"촘스키혁명"의 실상

  • Published : 2006.12.30


Quite a few historiographers of language science have measured the applicability of the term 'revolution' toward the line of work initiated by Chomsky, with the conclusion to the positive or negative effect as the case may be. This paper starts out with a brief review of this issue, with an interim conclusion that, while Chomskyan linguistics may be regarded as revolutionary in certain aspects, terms like 'revolution' and 'paradigm' are hardly applicable here in the way they were originally intended by Thomas Kuhn. It can be said, nontechnically, that the model of theory under discussion is at once 'revolutionary' and 'evolutionary' - in the sense that revolutions in linguistics have not resulted in abrupt loss of continuity with past 'paradigms', if there were any such. Chomsky's theory of language plays the same role of consolidation and refinement of structuralism that, say, the neogrmmarians played in their day. It has continued some fundamental traits of its predecessor, recovered others, and unwittingly rediscovered still others. But this is not the main thrust of the present paper. For, even if Chomskyan theory were to be looked upon as straightforwardly 'revolutionary', that revolution has not been a felicitous one. Some critic (Pieter A. M. Seuren, to be specific) goes as far as to say that "largely as a result of Chomsky's actions, linguistics is now sociologically in a very unhealthy state $\cdots$ to the point even of threatening to make that whole school of linguistics intellectually irrelevant." Besides, under the present state of language science that strikes one as typical of what Kuhn has characterized as "pre-paradigmatic" insecurity and disharmony, an unhealthy situation might take place if we were to think of the theoretical disagreements as conflicts between 'incommensurable' viewpoints-between 'rival paradigms' as it were-thereby avoiding or evading rational discussion. Another danger concerns the bandwagon effect, with linguists prematurely boarding each novel theory seemingly destined for popularity, for fear of being left clinging to an outdated 'paradigm.' Here lies another reason why the notion of 'revolution', Kuhnian or not, might as well be put aside, in the historiography of linguistics at the least.