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The Science of Language: Interviews with James McGilvray Paperback – 15 Mar 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (15 Mar 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1107602408
  • ISBN-13: 978-1107602403
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.5 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 605,079 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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'This clear and relaxed conversation, illuminating for specialists and newcomers, locates Chomsky's linguistics within his larger conception of human inquiry. McGilvray asks the right questions and offers helpful editorial supplements.' Paul M. Pietroski, University of Maryland

'Noam Chomsky has long been recognized as a founding genius of modern linguistics. These compelling and carefully organized interviews illustrate why … The book is truly exceptional in affording an accessible and readable introduction to Chomsky's broad-based and cutting-edge theorizing. A must-read!' Robert J. Stainton, University of Western Ontario

'An indispensable presentation, in engaging interview form, of Noam Chomsky's evolving ideas about the scientific investigation of language and human nature, with illuminating explication by interviewer James McGilvray.' Howard Lasnik, University of Maryland

'By bringing the two sides of Chomsky's career together in ways that his specialist works have eschewed, the conversations recorded in (this book) remind us that the 'Chomsky problem' is no individual foible, but the deepest ideological contradiction of our age.' The Times Literary Supplement

Book Description

In this previously unpublished series of interviews, Chomsky discusses his iconoclastic and important ideas concerning language, human nature and politics. In dialogue with James McGilvray, he takes up a wide variety of topics – the nature of language, the philosophies of language and mind and the evolution of language.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Beale on 13 Oct 2012
Format: Paperback
The value of this publication is that it exposes Chomsky's and other's related thinking from the Minimalist Program, as well as in other fields, in an informal dialogue between scientists. 'Informal' meaning that the explanations are of the form that would be used in public lectures, without the careful fully referenced academic language required for papers.

The main annoyance is the layout that was chosen, with McGilvray's explanations in a separate section at the back. It's one of those books where you need two bookmarks to keep track of where you are.

I can imagine a more fully fledged and better designed presentation of the material in the future - i.e. a popular science book that just takes a bit more care with definitions, uses diagrams and communicates the material to the science-literate public.

But the main material is of course excellent, and McGilvray's explanations at the back are comprehensive and informative. For anyone generally interested in language and linguistics, as well as moral philosophy, a great read.
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Format: Paperback
This is quite a misleading book. It emphasises its accessibility to the non-specialist reader when, in reality, it's pretty heavy going and complex. I'm currently studying a Master's degree in an area of linguistics (with a BA in English language and linguistics), so I'm not a complete layman, but even I found it indecipherable in many parts. The description at the back, as well as the introduction, market this as some kind of good introductory book on Noam Chomsky's incredibly important contributions to the theory and philosophy of language, but I think that the general reader will get very little out of it. With some knowledge of linguistics, and the help of the not always useful commentaries at the back of the book, I was able to struggle through, understanding the major points, but getting completely lost with the more technical descriptions.

The main part of this book (not including the commentary and the many appendixes) has been split into two halves, "the science of language and mind" and "human nature and its study". The first half is definitely only for the specialist reader, dealing with the technical side of Chomsky's theories on language. The second half, however, is far more accessible, presenting more of a philosophical inquiry into the nature of language, and humanity in general. I found this half absolutely fascinating, as I've always admired Chomsky the eminent linguist, and Chomsky the highly regarded political commentator, but I'd never before encountered Chomsky the revered philosopher. Chomsky sheds light on how his contentious theories on language underpin his entire moral framework, and how the philosophy of language is fundamental for our understanding of human nature, yet criminally undervalued in academic circles. Incredibly interesting, but heavy going.
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By onethorn on 13 Sep 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I like the interview style of this book, which gives it a more readable and engaging feel. I'd recommned it to teachers, as well.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 8 reviews
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
And Noam begat three sons: SEM, UG, & Merge 24 Jan 2013
By Il'ja Rákoš - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Love him, hate him, or fall somewhere in the middle, with Noam Chomsky you know what you're getting: clear, dispassionate analysis, unapologetic empiricism, and a humble spirit.

In the interviews included in "The Science of Language", James McGilvray draws out Chomsky on a host of topics including, but not limited to: pure science and its method, universal grammar, common sense, universality, critiquing (neo, too often social)Darwinistic 'pop biology', euphemistic vocabulary, modern myth-building, the unique human capacity to do math, the (rather extensive) limitations of selective adaptation, Galileo's thought experiments, the good and the bad of story-telling, and for me (a highlight) a simple explanation of his theory of "Merge", the sort of Big Bang in the development of the human faculty for language.

There is also almost nothing - believe it or not - about politics or Chomsky's views on western history. The man, despite his genius, or perhaps as evidence of it, is willing to admit when asked about the connection between his research in linguistics and his political views, "'s principled, but it's weak...there's no deductive connection. You could take any view on either of these topics, and it wouldn't be inconsistent to hold them." That's humble. And it's as refreshing as it is rare among those of our species blessed with the biggest brain-pans.

For those who've read extensively in Chomsky (smiling the entire time or gritting your teeth) there is probably not much new here for you, except perhaps another extended example of his tremendous ability to take an incredibly complex idea and say it in a way so that a child in school (fine, a bright child) could get it. Researchers, academics, writers the world over can learn from Noam Chomsky. We all can.

If you aren't familiar with the vocabulary of linguistics, you'll have some challenges here, but McGilvray has included a decent glossary and an appendix with some further explanations of Chomsky's remarks, putting them in a more accessible, broader context than the interview format could provide.

As a little treat, I was hugely entertained by his chastising of Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker for some - in Chomsky's view - less-than-honest popular science writing they've engaged in. Fans of Pinker et al. might not be so thrilled. But don't take it too close to heart, that's just Noam being Noam.

Finally, a quote: "If you're teaching, say, physics, there's no point in persuading a student that you're right. You want to encourage them to find out what the truth is, which is probably that you're wrong."

His thoughtfulness enriches us all.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
The easiest most accessible Chomsky yet 26 Dec 2012
By MR J W MCMAHON - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Reading this you get an idea of the intellect of Chomsky as he (presumably, off the top of his head) breifly talks about the origins of language; recursion; the connection between language and thought; and a bunch of other things. You do not need to be a linguist to understand this, it's accessible to anyone who is interested.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Interesting insight on education 14 April 2013
By Willem De Blank - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In this book the entire education system is being taken apart and analyzed with James McGilvray, who is a Professor of Philosophy,and Noam Chomsky. This book makes you understand that you don't know anything about the science of language and neither does anybody else, in great extent that is, and as a teacher that is a bit frustrating. It gives a clear picture of the unanswered questions in the science of language and it doesn't help you understand how the brain works in processing language because most investigations aren't profound enough, The good thing about this book is it makes you think about how the language of science possibly works, but sometimes it's hard to grasp the ideas that Chomsky is trying to transmit and how McGilvray interprets them.Overall these types of books we need not to understand linguistics, but to question how it works. Obviously as a teacher eye-opening stuff and a must have.
10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
The Science of Language 28 May 2012
By chrisnot - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Anything written by/dealing with Noam Chomsky is intellectually challanging.., not at all a bad thing. However, there isn't anything he says that can be reduced to a "Dummies" book. Bring your brains, pay attention, be deeply thoughtful, put the damn book down, then walk away with with questions and a degree of frustration.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Insightful! 26 Mar 2013
By Rameez Rahman - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book contains many diverse insights from Chomsky, ranging from comments on scientists writing popular works and how they often mislead the general public, to discussions of causality, the supernatural, and of course the innateness of language. You don't have to agree with Chomsky on everything, but even where you disagree, you know that he is being rigorous and thorough. He is never superficial, unlike many scientists who make wild claims in such interviews. Its a great read!
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