comments on the draft...

John Cowan cowan at
Tue Jun 8 13:27:28 CEST 2004

Peter Constable scripsit:

> I'm curious why you chose that particular Chomskyan relic, and what you
> *meant* by it?

I meant, to be sure, that RFC 3066bis, being generative, is full of
syntactically sound but pragmatically useless things, and en-1904
("English orthography as of 1904") is just another of them, not
much worse than my beloved example nv-dk ("Navajo as spoken/written in

> (The sentence "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" was made famous by
> the linguist Noam Chomsky when he used it in 1957 as an example of
> something that was grammatical but semantically anomalous, 

Specifically, AFAIU, he proposed it in order to falsify the behaviorist
theory that sentences were grammatical just in case the word pairs in
them were frequent collocations.  This one was grammatical even though
"colorless green", "green ideas", etc. were extremely rare to nonexistent
in the existing (hypothetical) corpus of English.  Semantics didn't
enter into it directly at that stage.

But I wasn't there (or born yet, quite) and I may be mistaken.

> "The square root of Milly's desk frightens humidity."

Hey, a good one.

De plichten van een docent zijn divers,         John Cowan
die van het gehoor ook.                         jcowan at
      --Edsger Dijkstra               

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