Chomsky, rain and ice cubes

From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Thu May 15 1997 - 00:45:29 EDT

At 8:46 AM +0000 5/14/97, Clayton Bartholomew wrote:

>As to being a disciple of Chompsky and Nida; no to both. I have never
>been excited about the dynamic equivalence translation methodology
>because I have never accepted the *deep structure/surface structure*
>scheme of analysis that it is founded on. A lot of flack has been
>directed at Chompsky and I think he deserved all of it.

I would like to address a common misperception of Chomsky's work which
*seems* to be reflected here. Chomsky (long ago) proposed a distinction
between deep structure and surface structure (which he has sense rejected)
in a very specific grammatical sense. The assumptions of dynamic
equivalence are 'based on' that distinction in about as direct a way as ice
cubes are based on thunder storms. (Thunder storms bring water. Ice cubes
are made of water.) Many people, including translation theorists like Nida,
literary critics, philosophers, etc. saw in Chomsky's distinction something
which they took to be applicable in a very metaphorical sense to their own
disciplines. What they later did with that distinction in fields only
tangentially related to the one in which Chomsky was working, should not be
attributed (for credit or blame) to Chomsky.

Like Clayton, I am *not* a disciple of Chomsky or Nida, but I do read
Chomsky's work (critically) unlike some of his critics. *Some* of it, I
believe, can provide real insight into the structure of Biblical Greek.
Other parts of it seem not to be very applicable--at least not yet. His
work is undergoing constant revision. At least twice in the last twenty
years he has thrown out many of the most basic assumptions of his
linguistic theory and started over with a new set of assumptions about how
language functions. I think that is one mark of an honest theorist--the
willingness to admit he was wrong and start over, keeping what worked best,
but abandoning assumptions which block real progress. The problem with most
of us is that we can't figure out what our own problematic assumptions are
since we take them to be nonnegotiable.

Of course, the ice-cubes-and-thunderstorm analogy is somewhat overstated,
but you get the point (I hope).

Micheal W. Palmer
Religion & Philosophy
Meredith College

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