Memo Clarifying the Recent List of Banned Words—Rhee Smog SpecGram Vol CLXXXV, No 3 Contents Reasons Not to Study Linguistics—Part II—Dyspepsia Prater and Cynnie Sizzum

Apollo 11 and Generative Grammar

Phyllis Fabergé
Professor of Lunar Craters in Linguistics
The Δίς Λεγόμενον Centre for Endeepened Ideation

As humanity celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landings this year, it may benefit the linguists of Terra to consider how the structure and function of the spacecraft stand as a symbolic validation of the ontology of language as formulated in the Chomskyan tradition.

Consider the modular nature of the Apollo spacecraft. Much like the standard model of the language faculty, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were carried to the moon in a vehicle unashamedly modular in structure. In a blatant rebuttal of the cognitivist underpinning of CCxG, there was little to no attempt to mould the architecture of the Saturn V rocket, the Command Module, the Lunar Module or any other element of the vehicle such that it mirrored the cognitive capacities of humanity. There is no figure-ground schema underpinning the boosters and no perpectivisation involved in docking procedure. Nevertheless, it got the figures of Armstrong and Aldrin on to the ground and gave humanity an entirely novel perspective on its place in the cosmos.

Again, the vagarities of the CxG lexico-syntactic cline find no analogue in the design of Apollo 11. There is no sense in which a switch on the on-board computer is simply a different instantiation of some abstract structure-function mapping principle to that of the fuel tank. Instead, clearly defined and delimited separate ‘blocks’ of machinery interact in preordained, structurally configured ways from which meaningthe motion of the spacecraftsis compositionally derived. Rarely if ever did metaphor, idiosyncratic or systematic, play a part in Apollo 11’s journey.

Moreover, despite Armstrong’s insistence on “One small step”, the Apollo missions serve to evidentialise the Chomskyan insistence on an evolutionary syntax explosion as the underpinning of the human language ability, a claim which stands in stark contrast with the incrementalist evolutionary narrative that protolanguage emerged gradually over many millions of years through the hominin line in line with and alongside concurrent adaptations in social thinking, tool use, vocalisation and such-like. There is no record of Homo habilis, Homo erectus or Homo neanderthalis attempting any Moon journey. Despite a fairly extensive record of cave paintings and skeletal remains, the former all draw on iconography of a demonstrably terrestrial origin, and no skeletons from the early hominin line exhibit any evidence of having left earth orbit.

A second piece of evidence which corroborates the syntax explosion hypothesis is drawn from the unfortunate failure of the Apollo 13 mission. This third attempt to land on the lunar surface was compromised as the result of an explosionnot as a result of breakdowns in social interaction, misreading of intentionality, too large a or too small a size of the community within the spacecraft or a decrease in opposable thumb usage in any of the individual astronauts. Instead, it was an explosion which crippled the spacecraft, an explosion very much of the same nature and effect of the hypothesised syntax explosion in the Chomskyan tradition.

Finally, throughout humanity’s entire history, only two other vehicles achieved lunar orbit prior to Apollo 11, namely Apollos 9 and 10, and this in the months immediately preceding Apollo 11’s landing. Once again, there is a clear pattern of not landing on the moon by means of rocket-propelled vehicles to a pattern of abruptly, suddenly and non-incrementally landing on the moon by means of rocket-propelled vehicles. These three pieces of evidence sit neatly with a Chomskyan claim to a sudden, rapid expansion from not combining word-like elements into meaning-bearing strings by means of a system of covert structural principles to an ability so to do by means of a structurally-defined lexeme combination facility as the appropriate conceputalisation of language.

Other, startling, crossovers exist which demonstrate the theoretical solidity of the Chomskyan enterprise. There is the well known case of the two types of movement, A and A-bar movement, which dovetails with the two A’s (Armstrong and Aldrin) who moved in different ways on the surface of the moon. In addition, consider C-command, that key structural relationship of dominance of one node over others. In the Command Module flew the great Michael Collins; beneath and below him, Armstrong and Aldrin executed their lunar surface duties. No clearer validation of C-command can reasonably be expected.

Again, Binding Theory consists, as is well known, of three principles, A, B and C. Likewise, the three principals of that first mission, Armstrong, Buzz and Collins referred to each other and themselves using a variety of noun phrases, pronouns and reflexives throughout the mission, all of which obeyed the constraints of the yet-to-be discovered Binding Theory. This, almost as much as the lunar landing itself, is an enduring outcome of that first Moon mission.

Thus, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary, we might be advised to gaze heavenward and remember the immortal words of Neil Armstrong as he set foot on the moon: “That’s one small feature in the raising verb, one giant, iterative A-movement of the object to its landing site (!) in the matrix clause. This is the Tranquility Base–generated sentence; the constituent has landed.”

Memo Clarifying the Recent List of Banned WordsRhee Smog
Reasons Not to Study LinguisticsPart IIDyspepsia Prater and Cynnie Sizzum
SpecGram Vol CLXXXV, No 3 Contents