《镜子大全》《朝华午拾》分享 http://blog.sciencenet.cn/u/liwei999 曾任红小兵,插队修地球,1991年去国离乡,不知行止。

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立委随笔:Chomsky meets Gates

已有 2696 次阅读 2010-1-24 14:07 |个人分类:立委随笔|系统分类:教学心得

最近,我们的一个大客户给了我们的技术一个无比崇高的评价。 (39566)
Posted by: liwei999
Date: December 09, 2006 02:29PM

Noam Chomsky meets Bill Gates!

作为技术人,我们开心极了-尽管我们并没有按照Chomsky的语言学理论行事,尽管我不喜欢 票子凯子(更喜欢把生意包装成艺术的苹果的乔布斯)。

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干的好,哄乔老爷上轿 (39610)
Posted by: 田牛
Date: December 09, 2006 06:57PM

给苍蝇戴手套
为蚊子戴口罩
劝盖兹也跳槽

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真有你的,老田。还有老吴,谢谢过奖。 (39797)
Posted by: liwei999
Date: December 10, 2006 09:56AM

我们的 Sales VP 居然没有听说过老乔。觉得能跟Bill Gates相提并论的学术界大牛肯定了得,现在一下子对他感兴趣了,让我给讲讲老乔有什么著名的段子,我就介绍了那个colorless ideas。他昨天还到书店买了老乔的畅销书。CEO开玩笑跟他说,明年销售翻三番,奖给他一套Chomsky全集。

趁着大家兴趣浓厚,我给公司员工贩卖一点相关的逸闻:

Chomsky is said to be one of the five most quoted men/sources in human history (the other four are all history now, including Karl Marx, Bible, etc.). He is a superstar in linguistics as well as the most prominent political dissident in US. Recently, his book on attacking US foreign policy and Iraq war was on the best selling list.

Some of my stories about Chomsky’s famous quote.

[1] Tanya had fun with Chomsky’s quote:

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

“Dad, it does not make sense at all”, as soon as I taught this sentence to Tanya, she had so much fun in playing with it, “haha, this is the most stupid sentence I have ever heard. How can ideas sleep? Ok, even if it can sleep, how can it sleep furiously? Ideas have color? Green? Come on. Ok, if it is green, how can it be colorless.”

Indeed none of the binary gramatical relationships (e.g. Subject-Verb “ideas sleep”, Modifier-Noun “green ideas”, Verb-Adeverbial “sleep furiously”) in the sentence makes common sense. However, every native speaker admits this nonsense is perfectly grammatical English. Otherwise how do we make sense of nonsense if nonsense itself is not expressed in correct grammar? Nonsense here is not incomprehensible gibberish. This brilliant thought experiment of Chomsky shows that syntactic structure (grammar) can be independent of semantics (meaning). In late 50s when Chomsky made his linguistics revolution, Chomsky was trying to tell linguists and the world that syntax shold be studied with no interference from semantics, which made the syntax study more profound. Although this view has its own defects, it did deepen the linguistic study at that time.

Interestingly enough, even nonsense can make perfect sense with proper pragmatics. When we put it in the right discourse, it can be very natural and well imaginable, as I showed it when I was a PhD student as follows.

[2] I wrote the following “story” years ago about Chomsky’s quote in Linguist List. Enjoy!

Message 2: Interpreting “colorless green ideas…”

Date: Mon, 27 Feb 95 3:30:13 PSTInterpreting “colorless green ideas…” From: Wei Li  Subject: Interpreting “colorless green ideas…”

Does it make sense?

In a certain domain, the Chomsky’s famous sentence is well imaginable.

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

Imagine the following context:

As we know, Esperantists wear a badge of “a green star”, a symbol for Esperanto
and its ideals. From there, “green ideas” would be easily conprehensible to
their minds.

Suppose now comes an opponent to Esperanto, he may say,

“Your green ideas are really colorless, not only colorless, those ideas are no
longer popular! Colorless green ideas sleep now!”

Well, what is a possible reaction from some Esperantists?

“Yes, our ideas (or ideals) sleep or seem to sleep now. But remember,
colorless green ideas sleep furiously! ”

–wei (liosfu.ca)

Comments (1)

子平01月 14th, 2009 at 11:22 am   edit

Does “colorless green” make sense? Well, not really as far as the color is concerned.
Actually, when the anti-Esperanto say “Your green ideas are really colorless”, he is not talking about the color of the green star. Rather, he is initiating a fight of ideas, not colors.



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