Whatever happened to Benjamin Ragheb? - Going to Chomskytown

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May 27th, 2008


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01:36 pm - Going to Chomskytown
Noam Chomsky used the following two sentences to illustrate the idea that some form of grammar is built into the human brain:
  1. "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously."
  2. "Furiously sleep ideas green colorless."
Both are completely meaningless, but Sentence 1 feels more correct than Sentence 2. Chomsky observed that all human languages have some features in common even among societies that arose independently. We may put our subjects before or after our verbs, but we all have subjects and verbs.

I think this idea relates to the idea of "going to crazy town" in comedy and improvisation specifically. Some crazy scenes are painful to watch, and some crazy scenes make your gut hurt from laughing so hard. What's the difference? I think that the crazy stuff is only funny when it adheres to a structure, so that the madness makes sense within its own world.

A bunch of random talking objects shouting at each other is not funny --- unless they are guests at the wedding of the dish and the spoon and a fight has broken out.

(read 5 comments | write a comment)

Comments:


From:dvarin
Date:May 27th, 2008 06:16 pm (UTC)
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Isn't a primary basis of humor the twisting of expectations? "My dog has no nose.", "How does he smell?", "Awful!", and so forth? You need structure to provide expectations to twist--in a completely random world there are no expectations, and the best you can achieve is a sort of surreality.
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From:benzado
Date:May 27th, 2008 06:45 pm (UTC)
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"My dog has no nose."
"How does he smell?"
"He can't. Weren't you listening?"

"My dog has no nose."
"How does he smell?"
"Through the hole in his face."

"My dog has no nose."
"How does he smell?"
"Through a sophisticated system of paw gestures."

"My dog has no nose."
"How does he smell?"
"Through his skin."

"My dog has no nose."
"How does he smell?"
"Telepathically."

"My dog has no nose."
"How does he smell?"
"I don't know, why don't you ask him."

"My dog has no nose."
"How does he smell?"
"Fuck you, you insensitive bastard."



From:dvarin
Date:May 27th, 2008 07:31 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, so I guess the standard expectation on that particular one isn't the same as it used to be.
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From:starmessenger
Date:May 28th, 2008 08:27 am (UTC)

Signifier and signified

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From:benzado
Date:May 29th, 2008 04:23 pm (UTC)

Re: Signifier and signified

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YES!

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