-uht!'s Reviews > Language and Problems of Knowledge: The Managua Lectures

Language and Problems of Knowledge by Noam Chomsky
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Aug 12, 08

Read in August, 2008

I bought this book for the title and then was delighted to discover it was the first half of Noam's Managua lectures, the second half being On Ideology and Power, one of my favorite books of all time.

It was a very interesting read. The concept of a genetic predisposition for learning language is interesting, and Chomsky couldn't have stated his belief stronger. Particularly fascinating was the discussion of a universal grammer that becomes realized in the specifics of the one or more languages we learn. Chomsky compares the specifics of any one language to switches that are toggled to one position or another in universal grammer. The examples he gives in Spanish and English are very evocative but ultimately unsatisfying to me. I was wishing he could include more languages so I could see more how universal grammer holds for all languages. These lectures were given over 20 years ago, though, so I imagine a lot of progress has been made in this area.

I also found the idea very evocative that the capacity for mathematics arose as an abstraction from the language ability. That mathematics was not necessary for our survival but that the mechanisms in the brain for representations of "discrete infinity" could also be abstracted for mathematics.

There was also a very brief discussion of the relationship between language and thought at the end of the book, which has always fascinated me to the point of near obsession. This was really the reason I bought the book (thinking that the relationship between the two would be the entire focus of the book), but, alas, I found it was about something else.

Anyway, he says: "The fact is that if you have not developed language, you simply don't have access to most of human experience..."

Favorite Quotes:

"It is a traditional insight, which merits more attention than it receives, that teaching should not be compared to filling a bottle with water but rather to helping a flower to grow in its own way. As any good teacher knows, the methods of instruction and the range of material covered are matters of small importance as compared with the success in arousing their interest in exploring on their own. What the student learn passively will quickly be forgotten. What students discover for themselves when their natural curiosity and creative impulses are aroused not only will be remembered but will be the basis for further exploration and inquiry and perhaps significant intellectual contributions. The same is true in connection with questions that I have been addressing in the concurrent series of lectures on political issues (see preface). A truly democratic community is one in which the general public has the opportunity for meaningful and constructive participation in the formation of social policy: in their own immediate community, in the workplace, and in the society at large. A society that excludes large areas of crucial decision-making from public control, or a system of governance that merely grants the general public the opportunity to ratify decisions taken by the elite groups that dominate the private society and the state, hardly merits the term "democracy."

"Work of true aesthetic value follows canons and principles that are only in part subject to human choice; in part, they reflect our fundamental nature."


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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Dave Great Review.
The personal distraction of Chomsky in the second half of the book really thinned out what i was hoping to find as well.
you are spot on here.


message 2: by Defaceo (new) - added it

Defaceo Well what you didn't like bout it?
(3 stars demand an explain)


-uht! Hmm, it's been a while since I read it so I'm pressed to remember anything I didn't like. I suppose it was simply a matter of preference. The subject matter was very technical, so the book tends to read like a textbook at times. I also came away wondering how bi- or multi-lingual brains function within the Universal grammar. I don't think this was meant to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject matter, however. More of an overview of a very deep theory. Not sure that answers your question, but that's all I've got at the moment. Cheers!


message 4: by Defaceo (new) - added it

Defaceo Well you can rate it how ever you want...I just think it's fair to justify it.
Thx, GG


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