Here on Language Log we have recently been twitted by readers who believe we have been insufficiently attentive to celebrity linguists, in particular Noam Chomsky (I find the idea that we should choose topics for our postings using personal fame as a guiding metric bizarre, but there it is). Mark Liberman has now responded, linking to a frivolous Facebook group pitting Chomsky against Labov. We've been frivolous about Chomsky before, in a posting about Ali G's interview of him; in two postings about Chomsky as the object of sexual arousal; and in a posting quoting Woody Allen's "The Whore of Mensa".
But (as Bruce Webster suggested to me) we seem not to have discussed the famous Chomskybot, which has been around in one version or another for about twenty years.
From the Wikipedia page:
The Chomskybot is a program that generates paragraphs which appear similar to those in the corpus of Noam Chomsky's linguistic works, but are humorously devoid of any meaning, by combining at random phrases taken from Chomsky's actual works. The Chomskybot is derived from another program called Foggy, which originally generated "fake"managerese —i.e., the language of business management.
A site with a Perl version of the program for people to play with is available here.
The title of this posting is the beginning of one of the Chomskybot's paragraphs (note the restrictive relativizer which, lifted directly from Chomsky's writing). Here's a whole sample paragraph:
Thus relational information is unspecified with respect to an important distinction in language use. Comparing these examples with their parasitic gap counterparts in (96) and (97), we see that this analysis of a formative as a pair of sets of features is not quite equivalent to a stipulation to place the constructions into these various categories. In the discussion of resumptive pronouns following (81), the notion of level of grammaticalness suffices to account for the requirement that branching is not tolerated within the dominance scope of a complex symbol. Presumably, the earlier discussion of deviance cannot be arbitrary in an abstract underlying order. Clearly, the systematic use of complex symbols is rather different from a descriptive fact.
And John Lawler's faq is available here. Lawler summarizes:
The Chomskybot is a demonstration of a peculiarly primitive variety of computational linguistics. Once you've seen how it works — if you care, and if you haven't recognized already how it's done — you are unlikely to be interested in the details, I expect. They're boring. The operation, however, can be amusing.
What I find interesting about it is how it just hovers at the edge of understandability, a sort of semantic mumbling, a fog for the mind's eye. Like Eliza (a much cleverer program), Julia (Eliza's great-great-grandaughter), and the other chatterboxes you can explore on Simon Laven's AI-NLP page, or Peter Suber's Minds and Machines philosophy class home page, foggy's most interesting effects are in the mind of the beholder, especially since its output not infrequently induces a strong feeling of inferiority in the unsuspecting, a sense of "I just don't get it, so I must be dumber than I'd thought." This is the Turing Test in reverse, and humans should resist allowing themselves to fail.
If it amuses anybody — and it's the only cheap thrill I have to offer for Web surfers — I'll be pleased.
One reason we haven't posted about the Chomskybot before is that it's so trivial; there's really nothing there of interest to general linguists or computational linguists. But it is entertaining.