LINGUIST List 3.404

Fri 15 May 1992

Disc: Chomsky citations

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Mark H Aronoff, Re: 3.396 Chomsky Citations
  2. Leo Obrst, Re: 3.396 Chomsky Citations
  3. Mahoney, Chomsky Citations
  4. Dan Everett, Re: 3.396 Chomsky Citations
  5. Robert Beard, The "Black Hole" of pre-Chomskyan citations
  6. , Re: 3.396 Chomsky Citations
  7. , Re: 3.396 Chomsky Citations

Message 1: Re: 3.396 Chomsky Citations

Date: Wed, 13 May 1992 10:05 ESTRe: 3.396 Chomsky Citations
From: Mark H Aronoff <>
Subject: Re: 3.396 Chomsky Citations

Linguists have a tendency to think that both they and their field are special.
The failure to cite work outside one's time or paradigm is very general and
stems from the social nature of academic discourse and society. It's just as
common in biology and physics as it is in linguistics, or in deconstructionist
theology, for that matter. So, don't worry, be happy. Cite Sapir if you want
to, or Baudouin de Courtenay, my current favorite, but stop thinking that we're
special or chosen (though some of us clearly are!).
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Message 2: Re: 3.396 Chomsky Citations

Date: Wed, 13 May 1992 19:50 CSTRe: 3.396 Chomsky Citations
From: Leo Obrst <>
Subject: Re: 3.396 Chomsky Citations

I think that the large number of Chomsky citations in linguistics
is unfortunately due largely to the authoritarian nature of the
Chomsky-spawned linguistics that gets done: theory is simply not
acceptable until it has received the imprimatur of Chomsky, by
his penning an essay or book which incorporates a student's or
accolyte's idea. This is not so much an impugnment of Chomsky:
I personally think he is a great linguist (and political observer);
it is rather an impugnment of the Chomsky disciples. I gather
that the ship of modern (generative) linguistics is so terribly
tossed in the gales of (what counts as) science that every hand
looks to the captain for guidance. And so, too often, the captain
wears a halo.

I think that Chomsky would be cited less if linguistics was either
more of a science than it is or at least more than its practitioners
seem to believe.
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Message 3: Chomsky Citations

Date: Wed, 13 May 92 15:29:35 -0Chomsky Citations
From: Mahoney <>
Subject: Chomsky Citations

Although I am a faithful reader of the LINGUIST, I rarely contribute.
This is a case, however, where I feel I can contribute with
confidence, since I am a professional librarian (and a linguist by
avocation only at this point).

It is clear that the large majority of citations to the work of
Chomsky are to his linguistic works, rather than to the more political

I looked briefly at the citations to the works of Chomsky published in
the 1980's. I used the three databases produced by the Institute for
Scientific Information: Arts & Humanities Search, Science Citation
Index, and Social SciSearch. These are the primary source for
citation counts in all fields. Note that the citation indexes look
primarily at journal article references. Also note that I did not
delve into things in detail, that I made these counts based on short
titles only, and that I am not an expert in the works of Chomsky.

Overall, for the three databases, less than 5% of the citations appear
to be to Chomsky's nonlinguistic works (remember, these are citations
to works published in the 1980's only).

The percentages did vary between the three databases:
Arts & Humanities-------approx 3% to nonlinguistic works
Social SciSearch--------approx 7% to nonlinguistic works
Science Citation Index--much <1% to nonlinguistic works

Donna Cromer
Centennial Science and Engineering Library
Univ of New Mexico
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Message 4: Re: 3.396 Chomsky Citations

Date: Wed, 13 May 92 12:48:37 -0Re: 3.396 Chomsky Citations
From: Dan Everett <>
Subject: Re: 3.396 Chomsky Citations

I agree with Mark Durie that it is less curious that Chomsky is
cited so much than that others before him are cited so little,
at least by linguists.

For example, two of the most important issues in multilinear
phonology, one fairly recent, the other around since the 70's, are
many-to-one mapping between tones and vowels and *prosodic licensing*,
the notion that elements of one linguistic level must belong to units
of a higher level (usually the next level up). Both of these notions
are EXPLICIT principles of tagmemic phonology (on the first cf. the
last two paragraphs of Pike & Pike 1947, then read the first line of
the introduction to Goldsmith's 1976 PhD thesis for an interesting
contrast; on the second principle, cf. Pike 1967 and his discussion of
the `phonemic hierarchy'). One rarely sees Pike quoted in this regard
(E. Selkirk has long been an exception to this pattern, though). Geoff
Pullum's NLLT column on citation etiquette in linguistics takes up
this general problem. This is partially understandable since a lot of
Tagmemics' insights take the unappealing form of a disjoint set of
ad-hoc commentaries on the last language Pike looked at. Nevertheless,
there is no way to deny that Pike is responsible for some brilliant
insights into human language. And Pike is just one example. There are
plenty of others.

It is not that anyone needs Chomsky to make their work respectable.
That is clearly false, whether the individual is Saussure or a
student. Still, if anyone were to seriously doubt that it is Chomsky,
not Saussure, nor Bloomfield, nor Sapir, nor even Jakobson, who `put
linguistics on the map' of the intellectual disciplines and who has
done more to keep it there than anyone else is in need of some
psychiatric help. Moreover, the fact that Chomsky publishes more than
any other linguist (if I am wrong, please correct me - that would be
interesting) doesn't hurt his citation index. His output is nearly

His influence on the field can be seen even at the level of university
administration: when a department chairperson wants to convince a
university administrator that linguistics has natural intellectual
ties to many departments, I do not think that they would drop the
names of Saussure or Pike rather than Chomsky.

It is worth considering the possibility that many of the citations of
Chomsky's work could be due to ignorance - if he said it, or even if
we think he did, just cite him and nobody will argue; why look for the
*original* source? That's hard work and laziness too often prevails.
But it is also true that, like it or not, the source of many of the
most interesting ideas in history on human language came from 20D-219,
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Message 5: The "Black Hole" of pre-Chomskyan citations

Date: 13 May 1992 23:20 EDT
From: Robert Beard <>
Subject: The "Black Hole" of pre-Chomskyan citations

 Steve Anderson's new book on morphology should contain the follow-
ing epigraph (if he didn't change it before publication): "Linguistics
will become a science when linguists begin standing on one another's
shoulders instead of one another's toes". I think he has a point. We
have reached the point where we are redoing some aspects of language
more poorly than they were done the first time. The problem may have
originated from the fact that little had been done in syntax prior to
the work of the generative school; little, that is, in comparison to
what has been done since the instigation of that movement. Jakobson's
and Halle's work in distinctive features also clearly superceded pre-
vious work, making it difficult to find structuralist work relevant to
what is going on today. However, Anderson is right in chiding us for
carrying this attitude over to morphology, where the current trend in
and around Massachusetts has hardly moved beyond Bloomfield, the first
to claim that affixes are regular lexical items. First rate morphologi-
cal study goes back to the Stoic philosophers, who were the first to
tease apart grammatical categories and, on a different track, back to
Panini. Not only is most current morphology failing to cite relevant
sources, it is failing to take advantage of the discoveries of struc-
turalist, neogrammarian, and even classical morphologists. These pre-
decessors were particularly adept at finding problems in the theory of
the linguistic sign. Varro (47-45) was the first to attempt to define
lexical categories in terms of [+/-N, +/-V] as well as lexicalizations.
Aristotle noticed that grammatical morphemes differed from lexical ones
and the Stoics first used the terms "signifier" and "signified".
 I am jumping into the middle of this discussion but I think Mark
has touched the real issue: it is less that Chomsky and other members
of his school are quoted so much than that many others who make contri-
butions -- often the same ones -- are quoted to little. The result
which I am seeing more and more often is the second, third, fourth
reinvention of the wheel. --RBeard
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Message 6: Re: 3.396 Chomsky Citations

Date: Thu, 14 May 92 16:23:03 CDRe: 3.396 Chomsky Citations
Subject: Re: 3.396 Chomsky Citations

 I'm neither surprised by the number of Chomsky citations, nor their
nature, and I do agree that linguistics owes much of its current status
to Chomsky's work. However, I don't think we ought to overemphasize the
political citations, since, clearly, the linguistic ones come in droves. And,
while Vicki's Nobel-Prize-Winners' citations speak to this point, let us not
shun others that also give our profession honor -- one of my favorites is
from Woody Allan, "The Whore of Mensa" (1972):
 I'm on the road a lot. You know how it is -- lonely ... Sure a guy can
 meet all the bimbos he wants. But really brainy women -- they're not
 easy to find on short notice." ... "Well, I heard of this young girl
 ... For a price, she'll come over and discuss any subject ... Symbolism's
 extra." "Suppose I wanted Noam Chomsky explained to me by two girls?"
 ... "It'd cost you."

 I hasten to disassociate myself with the sexism of the citation.
 Lyle Campbell
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Message 7: Re: 3.396 Chomsky Citations

Date: Fri, 15 May 1992 14:41 PDTRe: 3.396 Chomsky Citations
From: <>
Subject: Re: 3.396 Chomsky Citations

I would like to second Mark Durie's concerns with what he calls a
"pre-generative black hole in modern citation patterns". It seems a
real problem to me that so many of the younger scholars trained in
the Chomskian school of linguistics are almost completely ignorant
of any work done outside that school. On the other hand it seems
those who do have a solid knowledge of the history of ideas in
linguistics and have an awareness of typological diversity and have
worked seriously with a number of languages tend to produce superior
work. A prime example is the work of Michael Silverstein, whose
work is grounded on a very thorough knowledge of the work of Sapir,
Boas, Saussure, Bloomfield, etc., as well as experience doing detailed
work with American Indian and Australian languages, as well as a
good knowledge of work done in the philosophy of language.
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