[Humanist] 30.186 Golumbia on Chomsky, computation, computational linguistics

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Jul 19 07:23:34 CEST 2016

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 30, No. 186.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 18 Jul 2016 07:24:18 -0400
        From: "William L. Benzon" <bbenzon at mindspring.com>
        Subject: David Golumbia on Chomsky, Computation, and Computational Linguistics
        In-Reply-To: <20160718072809.222BA7B55 at digitalhumanities.org>

As many of you know, David Golumbia is one of three authors of a recent article that that offered a critique of the digital humanities (DH), Neoliberal Tools (and Archives): A Political History of Digital Humanities <https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/neoliberal-tools-archives-political-history-digital-humanities/>. The article sparked such vigorous debate within the DH community that I decided to investigate Golumbia’s thinking. I’ve known about him for some time but had not read his best known book:
David Golumbia. The Cultural Logic of Computation. Harvard University Press, 2009.

But I’ve read the Chomsky material with some care and concluded that he’s confused about Chomsky, computation, and computational linguistics. So, I’ve put a longish post on my blog, New Savanna, in which I explain where and how he seems mistaken: Golumbia Fails to Understand Chomsky, Computation, and Computational Linguistics <http://new-savanna.blogspot.com/2016/07/golumbia-fails-to-understand-chomsky.html>.

Over at Language Log Mark Liberman has a recent post about the LARB article: Digital scholarship and cultural ideology  http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=26769 . I note the following paragraphs:

> On the contrary,  it's clear that the successive waves of DH work
> over the past 70 years emerged bottom-up, as scholars took advantage
> of advances in technology to facilitate research they wanted to do
> anyhow. These technological steps have included the broad
> availability of batch processing in the 1950s; the development of
> minicomputers in the 1960s; early time-sharing in the 1970s; the
> availability of personal computers in the 1980s; the democratization
> of the internet in the 1990s; and so on.
> There's nothing particularly humanistic about all this — researchers
> in nearly all fields have adopted successive waves of digital
> technology to let them do old things more efficiently, more
> accurately, faster and on a larger scale, and to do new things that
> were previously not feasible in practical terms.

Mark also has a post taking issue with Golumbia’s use of (in Cultural Logic) “analog” in discussing language: Is language "analog”?  http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=26786   Golumbia has asserted, "The brain is analog; languages are analog; society and politics are analog.” Liberman notes in response:

> But crucial aspects of human speech and language are NOT "analog" —
> are not continuously variable physical (or for that matter spiritual)
> quantities. This fact has nothing to do with computers — it was as
> true 100 or 1,000 or 100,000 years ago as it is today, and it's been
> recognized by every human being who ever looked seriously at the
> question.
> There are three obvious non-analog aspects of speech and language. In
> linguistic jargon, these are the entities involved in syntax,
> morphology, and phonology. In more ordinary language, they're
> phrases, words, and speech sounds.
I invite you to these discussions.

Bill Benzon
bbenzon at mindspring.com



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