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Saturday, February 26, 2011

getting over Chomsky and leaving Nida behind

On February 19th of 1979 I flew to Chicago with a small team of training developers to work with the First National Bank of Chicago on a computer based teller training system for the banks initial transition from paper to electronic teller transactions. One of the members of our team was a woman who had done PhD work in linguistics at the Univ. of Washington. She was a Chomsky disciple and we heard a lot about him in the next several months. I have a nasty habit of picking up other peoples interests, sort of like catching a virus. Back in Seattle, we shared an office with another Chomsky devote so the linguistic dialog was in the background while I was writing teller training modules, an incredibly boring task.

I don't remember reading much of Chomsky directly. I went to the Seattle library and picked up the Cambridge text book on Generative Grammar and worked through it at my leisure. Chomsky wrote for geeks and I was working with geeks and trying to fit into the world of geekdom which was very very difficult since I was a literature, arts, religion and philosophy type with long term social connections to left wing-nuts and an assorted collection of pseudo-intellectuals who at that time (1979) wouldn't be caught dead in the same room with a computer.    

While reading Chomsky I was also reading semantic theory. Dabbling in Lyons, and others the names have left me. All this had a very real day to day usefulness in the world of computers which was my day job. Five years later I started working through the Language of the New Testament by E.V.N. Goetchius. I was bored to death with Generative Grammar's preoccupation with English sentences. I read Goetchius for the syntax and more or less ignored morphology. I gradually picked up a little morphology by exposure but my primary interest was syntax. After a couple of years I picked up a UBSGNT3-Cor. at the SPU book store for $10. I was using their library since alumnae have lifetime privileges and they had a good biblical studies collect, best in Seattle at that time, probably still is. I found in the stacks a bunch of books by E. A. Nida from his early work up to the present. I read most of them. My initial impression was not favorable. Sounded a lot like anthropology and sociology, subjects which I had more than my fill of as an undergraduate. Nida's translation model had all those familiar flavors of cultural relativism. As a hard core disciple of Francis Schaeffer a decade earlier, I had strong feelings about cultural relativism.

Right now I am reading a paper by Kenneth A. McElhanon which leaves Chomsky and Nida behind. I can remember back in the late 1990's making a comment on b-greek forum about Nida's use of Chomsky. Micheal Palmer, the linguist, assured me that Chomsky & Nida were like elaphants and bananas. A bible translation professional (not-SIL) Paul Sellmer(?) joined the discussion and took issue with Palmer. I didn't get much out of it other than what I already new, linguists are eclectic and seldom understand one another unless they have worked together for long periods of time like Randall Buth and Stephen Levinsohn. Anyway, after all these years of exposure to cultural relativism I am now reading a paper which takes language theory to a whole new level of cultural relativism, makes Nida's framework look like just another variant of the Code Model of Communication (CMC) which of course it is. Why am I not upset about this? Primarily because I have abandoned the Chicago Statement approach to the doctrine of scripture. That approach is completely bound up with he Code Model of Communication. If CMC  goes then the Chicago Statement goes with it.

I don't think that God intended us to be afraid of progress in language understanding. The bible still communicates the Divine Author's intended meaning. It just doesn't work they way the teach it in Texas. More on this later. Please ignore the errors, its after midnight, I clean it up tomorrow.

[1] From Word to Scenario: The Influence of Linguistic Theories Upon Models of Translation,  Kenneth A. McElhanon, Journal of Translation, Volume 1, Number 3 (2005).


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