Occupy Linguistics!

As many of you know, my formal training is in linguistics. That’s the field in which I received my master’s degree. In all practicality, when I received my degree, I was much more qualified to give a phonetic, phonemic, morphologic and syntactic analysis of the question “Would you like fries with that?” than your average graduate school graduate.

Even though I am a trained linguist, I have never actually worked directly in the field of linguistics. This is due to three reasons:

  1. I discovered too late that most of the jobs in linguistics are research or teaching positions at universities, and the political climate at most institutions (word choice intentional) of higher learning would drive me bonkers.
  2. Even if you can get a job as a linguist, there’s not much money in it.
  3. The field, even all these years later, is dominated by Chomskyan structuralists, who frankly just tick me off.

For those of you who don’t know who Noam Chomsky is, you can look him up on Wikipedia. His 1955 monograph, “Syntactic Structures,” turned linguistics on its head by introducing transformation-generative grammar to the world. Chomsky believes you can understand the essence of language (its “structure”) by deducing and identifying the underlying principles and parameters. He also holds the odd (for a linguist) notion that meaning isn’t really that important. I can’t lay my hand on the quote, but in my final semester of graduate courses I ran across a statement by Chomsky saying something to the effect that there was no reason to consider “meaning” an essential or even interesting part of language.

That’s hogwash, of course. In reality, meaning wasn’t essential or interesting to the jerk from MIT because he just couldn’t figure out a way to diagram it. Any grade schooler can tell you that language without meaning is meaningless. It’s all “colorless green ideas sleeping furiously”–to bastardize Chomsky’s pet sentence.

In the words of another Linguist, John R. Searle, “It is important to emphasize how peculiar and eccentric Chomsky’s overall approach to language is. Most sympathetic commentators have been so dazzled by the results in syntax that they have not noted how much of the theory runs counter to quite ordinary, plausible, and common-sense assumptions about language.” To which I say, Exactly.

On top of his wooly-headedness when it comes to semantics, Chomsky also really really hates America. In his eyes, America is the most repressive, most evil country sing … well, since ever. Here are a few gems, taken from a David Horowitz article in the far-right Salon.com:

  • According to Chomsky, in the first battle of the postwar struggle with the Soviet Empire, “the United States was picking up where the Nazis had left off.”
  • According to Chomsky, during the Cold War, American operations behind the Iron Curtain included “a ‘secret army’ under U.S.-Nazi auspices that sought to provide agents and military supplies to armies that had been established by Hitler and which were still operating inside the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe through the early 1950s.”
  • According to Chomsky, in Latin America during the Cold War, U.S. support for legitimate governments against communist subversion led to U.S. complicity under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, in “the methods of Heinrich Himmler’s extermination squads.”
  • According to Chomsky, there is “a close correlation worldwide between torture and U.S. aid.”
  • According to Chomsky, America “invaded” Vietnam to slaughter its people, and even after America left in 1975, under Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, “the major policy goal of the U.S. has been to maximize repression and suffering in the countries that were devastated by our violence. The degree of the cruelty is quite astonishing.”
  • According to Chomsky, “the pretext for Washington’s terrorist wars [i.e., in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, Guatemala, Iraq, etc.] was self-defense, the standard official justification for just about any monstrous act, even the Nazi Holocaust.”
  • In sum, according to Chomsky, “legally speaking, there’s a very solid case for impeaching every American president since the Second World War. They’ve all been either outright war criminals or involved in serious war crimes.”

True to form, Chomsky actually penned a poison-laced opinion piece for Al Jazeera on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The subtitle says it all: “Suppression of one’s own crimes is virtually ubiquitous among powerful states, at least those that are not defeated.” Man, the guy really knows how to commemorate the death of almost 3,000 innocent people!

And it is in this light that I read today’s article from Britain’s Daily Mail:

When it’s comes to being the word of the year, ‘occupy’ is camped out at the top this year, keeping down ‘the 99 percent’ and stifling ‘job creators.’

The word, which became synonymous with anti-Wall Street protestors who took over parks in New York and across the nation this year, was selected as the top term by a large majority of delegates at the American Dialect Society’s annual meeting.

All I can say is, “Really?” With everything that happened last year, and with virtually every claim by the mainstream media about the “non-violent” Occupy movement having been proven completely untrue, these nitwit linguists are choosing “occupy” as their “word of the year”?

I’d love to hear your opinions. What should have been the word of the year? How about “bias”?

My preference would have been “gunwalking,” but I’d love to hear your opinions.

Posted in Media Bias, Personal, Politics, Writing