It has become quite fashionable of late to speak of the linguistic revolution" initiated by Noam Chomsky a little over a decade ago and the repercussions it has had in the allied fields of philosophy, psychology, and education. By modern scientific standards, a decade is a significant time span (it has been said that knowledge doubles in that amount of time!) and it should be possible by now to view the ramifications of this decade of radical change in some historical perspective.

In the field of linguistics proper, it is possible to detect four distinct stages of development since Chomsky's publication of Syntactic Structures in 1957 (see Maclay, in press), Although there has been and continues to be divergence of opinion on the proper nature of transformation of rules to be postulated, the major import of the developmental stages revolves around the nature and role of semantics in a transformational generative grammar Currently (see Steinberg and James, in press) there is deep dissension between Chomsky and the Chomskyan camp on the one hand and the "challengers" on the other hand (e.g., Lakoff, McCawley) with respect to the degree of independence of semantics and syntax at the deep structure level. While these theoretical debates are undoubtedly of great significance for linguistics and its future; development, they are at the present time too esoteric and specialized to be of immediate import to related fields such, as psychology and education.

The repercussions of the original revolution in linguistics as they have manifested themselves in psychology and psycholinguistics are by now well known. The main single effect in this context has been the weakening of the behavioristic explanations for language learning in terms of the S-R paradigm. With this change in orientation have come novel forms of experimentation (see James and Miron, 1967) and new theoretical constructs (see Smith and Miller, 1966). From the historical point of view, "psycholinguistics" as all independent field of inquiry seems, to have gone through three stages. The pre-Chomskyan era of the 1950's saw its birth chiefly within the information-theory paradigm as exemplified in the collection of papers which formed the Osgood and Sebeok monograph of 1954. This vigorous and promising development was interrupted by the Chomskyan era that began with his influential review (1959) of Skinner's Verbal Behavior (1957) which had the immediate consequence of weakening the paradigm.

There followed several years of vigorous experimentation in "sentence processing" and in "Child Language Acquisition," and this development can be seen to still dominate the field today. However, in the last few years, parallel developments in anthropology ("ethnosemantics"), sociology, ("sociolinguistics," "ethnomethodology"), and education (language teaching and testing, varieties of English) have combined to exert a strong influence on psycholinguistics with the infusion of new ideals centering around the concept of "communicative competence," and to my mind, these development indicate the emergence of a post-Chomskyan era in psycholinguistics which is already marked by new forms of experimentation (see for example Osgood's [in press] work on "perceptual presuppositions" and related work by others which he summarizes). The purpose of this paper is to look into the concerns that led to this development and to outline a few theoretical notions that must form the basis for their elaboration, as I see them today.

1.This paper was prepared for a special issue of Journal of English as a Second Language, November, 1969


Previous Next

Back to the Titlepage