Tribute to Noam Chomsky

Probably everybody knows Chomsky’s famous sentence Colorless green ideas sleep furiously (Syntactic Structures, 1957). For us, and not only for us, it is a source of both conceptual and esthetical inspiration, for many reasons:

  • It was used by Chomsky to prove the independence of syntax and semantics in human language (grammar is autonomous and independent of meaning). Linguists have discussed for decades about the soundess of this separation, but we, as linguists and as artists, still believe in the autonomy of these cognitive functions. And we try to reflect it in our artworks, where syntax and semantics always evolve independently, sometimes in harmony, sometimes in opposite directions.
  • It was also used as a critique of the probabilistic models of the language ( probabilistic models give no particular insight into some of the basic problems of syntactic structure), as the probability to find (or generate) such a sentence is extremely low. While we make extensive use of advanced statistics and machine learning methods to deal with semantics (and lexical semantics, in particular) we share the thought that grammar should be primarily cognitive, thus rooted in the way we understand the language, rather than on word vectorization. The same holds for other non textual grammars, such as sounds, images, shapes, etc. Our artworks always obey some paradigm of cognitive grammars, even though, in most cases, the computation of cognitive structures takes place offline.
  • The sentence Colorless green ideas sleep furiously, probably involuntarily, gave origin to a countless number of interpretations. We consider the challenge of producing interpretations for that sentence very similar to the one which the perceiver is faced to when decrypting generative artworks. The meaning is never trivial and its discovery is independent of the artist thoughts, except that she supposed that a certain sets of concepts should be generated in a certain way by a computer.