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Colloquially, the linguistics wars were a protracted academic dispute in American generative linguistics, stemming from a falling-out between Noam Chomsky and some of his early students and colleagues, which took place mostly in the 1960s and 1970s.
The debate began when linguists such as Paul Postal, "Haj" Ross, George Lakoff, and James McCawley—self-dubbed the "four horsemen of the Apocalypse"—proposed an alternative theory of generative semantics, which essentially flipped Chomsky's theory on its head by focusing on semantics rather than grammar as the basis of Chomsky's concept of deep structure. While Chomsky and other generative grammarians argued that meaning was derived from the underlying order of the words being used, the generative semanticists cited the meaning of the words as giving rise to their order.
Eventually, generative semantics spawned an alternative linguistic paradigm, known as cognitive linguistics, which attempts to correlate the understanding of language with the concepts of cognitive psychology, such as memory, perception and categorization. While generative semanticists operate on the premise that the mind has a unique and independent module for language acquisition, cognitive linguists deny this. Instead, they assert that the processing of linguistic phenomena is informed by conceptual deep structures and—more significantly—that the cognitive abilities used to process this data are similar to those used in other non-linguistic tasks.
It touches on the issues of the dispute involving Chomsky and other significant individuals (Lakoff, Postal, etc.) and also highlights how certain theories evolved and which of their important features have influenced modern-day linguistic theories.
- Ray C. Dougherty
- Ray Jackendoff
- Paul Postal
- Decoding Chomsky: Science and revolutionary politics
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