Monday, April 02, 2007

Colourless Green Ideas

In his seminal Syntactic Structures (1957), the great linguist and political thinker, Noam Chomsky, devised this brilliant piece of nonsense to demonstrate that sentence meaning and structure were quite separate:

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

Although clearly nonsensical, it is grammatically perfect in English, as any speaker of the language would attest. We observe that each successive word contradicts the former: If something is green it cannot be colourless; ideas are abstract, hence cannot be green or any other colour for that matter; ideas cannot sleep; and one may sleep fitfully but not furiously. Absolutely brilliant stuff.

In Singapore we do not need a Chomsky to coin these sentences for us ... for we have our very own Ja!


Michirure said...

That was brilliant! Now I know what it is.. Syntactic structures huh..

Haha.. You are blogging more and more these days! Less workload?

I'm surfing more these days.. To destress.. Hai..

The Grammar Terrorist said...

The opposite, actually -- it helps me destress, and most of these were written on the train. I dip into my picture resources and see what stories I can weave around them -- being a professional talker (aka teacher), one has the necessary training!

Michirure said...

!!! You actually blog on the train? Wow! Haha.. Do you get people looking over your shoulder often? I used to go for a creative writing workshop which required us to type our ideas on the train as well. I got plenty of stares and weird looks.. LOL..

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Yes ... not a real problem as it's nothing confidential. Hmm, you must come up to identify yourself next week because I've no idea who 'michirure' is!

Michirure said...

-faints- You didn't know? Haha.. I thought I used the same nick a long time ago.. Well, michirure is jap for michelle, or so I am told. See you tomorrow! =)

The Grammar Terrorist said...

I did have my suspicions (sorry, blame failing memory on age!) but thought I'd check. 'Michiru' is in fact a common female Japanese name. I knew one in London.

xapaga said...

Half a century ago Chomsky's 'colourless green ideas' were utter nonsense, whereas at present we use the term 'green' far more often to indicate something that is less harmful, if not totally harmless, to the natural environment ('environmentally friendly'). Hence comes my 'translation' below:

(Another) boring ideas concerning environmental protection are not being put into practice, which makes you think furiously.

Well, I must admit I counld't possibly paraphrase the adverb at the end, which I hope won't make you feel furious.

One other thing: Michiru is a Japanese name (now considered female but can also be a male name in the old days, just like Hilary in Britain and America).

However, contributor 'michirure' has been misinformed about her handle (name). Michelle for Japanese is something like 'Missheru' or 'Misheru' though it's impossible to transcribe Japanese pronunciation in a Western language. 'Michirure' looks more like a misspelt 'michizure' or 'michidzure' which means 'one's travelling companion' or 'a companion for one's journey to hell' (often used in the context of crime or war report in which one kills oneself and another or others at the same time).

I don't mean this to be a personal attack, so please delete the latter half if you wish.