Re: Chomsky, rain and ice cubes

From: Paul Zellmer (
Date: Thu May 15 1997 - 01:38:58 EDT

Micheal Palmer wrote:
> 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.)

But thunderstorms are often the source of ice in the form of hail ;^>

> 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.

Well said (especially the last part). Thanks, Michael.

Have a good summer. I trust you are off.


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