Edited By Martin Hinton
Geoffrey Sampson - Two Ideas of Creativity
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University of Sussex
Two ideas of creativity
Discussion of the scientific status of linguistics is often clouded by an ambiguity in the terms “creative”, “creativity”. Linguists have taken to using these words in a way that is very different from the way they are used in everyday English, and this idiosyncratic usage is arguably responsible for serious misunderstandings about the nature of human language.
Whether or not they regard the influence of Chomsky’s linguistic writings as positive, many people agree in seeing those writings, from the 1957 book Syntactic Structures onward, as having brought about a “revolution” in the discourse of linguistics. One leading feature of that “revolution” is said to be that Chomsky drew attention to the fact that language behaviour is creative. What is meant, by those who say this, is that the grammar rules of a human language allow an infinitely numerous range of distinct grammatical sentences, so that most sentences we utter or hear have never been uttered or heard by us (and perhaps by anyone) before. Human languages are contrasted in this respect with the signalling systems used by some animal species, which are said to comprise small finite ranges of possible signals.
Thus, Sir John Lyons’s Chomsky (1970) was a concise summary of Chomsky’s linguistics, addressed to the educated general reader, by an author with wide intellectual horizons who was broadly sympathetic to his subject without being an uncritical...
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