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Liberty and Language

By (author) Geoffrey Sampson
Genres: linguistics
Format: Hardback
Publisher: Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom
Published: 22nd Mar 1979
Dimensions: w 140mm h 220mm
Weight: 47627g
ISBN-10: 0192159518
ISBN-13: 9780192159519
Barcode No: 9780192159519

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If Sampson's title conjures up Noam Chomsky's recent Language and Responsibility, it's only fitting, since this is an attack on the MIT anarchist professor by a fellow-linguist (University of Lancaster). Sampson's critique is occasioned by Chomsky's scattered remarks linking his linguistic research to his radical politics. Chomsky has claimed that his theory of an innate propensity for language in the human mind - manifest in the ability to learn grammatical rules and thus utter linguistically valid sentences - has two political consequences. On the positive side, people left to their own will spontaneously form new social arrangements in accordance with their innate mental capacities (i.e., "rational" arrangements); but these arrangements cannot be of a punishment-reward nature, since people are not malleable or capable of being "formed" by external means. Although these statements are very rare in Chomsky's writings, Sampson seizes on them in order to both deny the connection between linguistics and politics that Choresky professes, and to supply an alternative, liberal scheme. Against Chomsky, Sampson argues that, while the ability to learn the rules of a language are innate, the ability to utter meaningful - as opposed to simply grammatically valid - sentences constitutes a hard core of creative potential unaccounted for by his foe, and a basic source of inequality among individuals and groups. Sampson uses this opening as a linguistic support for his view that classical free-market liberalism (in the spirit of F. A. Hayek and Karl Popper) provides the best framework for the realization of this potential human creativity. Having broken the connection between the two levels of Chomsky's writings, Sampson goes on to mount an "empirical" attack on Chomsky's political ideas, which amounts to little beyond the restatement of free-market critiques of "authoritarian" political systems. Sampson does indeed open a breach in Chomsky's linguistics, but he tries to make too much of it, and repeats his opponent's error of believing that a political theory can be floated on a linguistic sea. (Kirkus Reviews)