Chomskybot: Almost Intelligible Gibberish

Image credit: 

Chomskybot is a web-hosted program that generates text which appears similar to (and based on) the famously hard-to-follow linguistic work of Noam Chomsky. But unlike Chomsky's actual work, Chomskybot's text is devoid of meaning. Circling back on itself, piling modifiers on terms, and stretching the limits of human attention, Chomskybot generates a stream of text that's almost meaningful -- and by doing so, it's actually kind of fun to read...until it drives you nuts. For example, try to make sense of this Chomskybot passage:

With this clarification, the theory of syntactic features developed earlier is not subject to a descriptive fact. For one thing, a subset of English sentences interesting on quite independent grounds is not to be considered in determining nondistinctness in the sense of distinctive feature theory. It must be emphasized, once again, that the fundamental error of regarding functional notions as categorial is to be regarded as a corpus of utterance tokens upon which conformity has been defined by the paired utterance test. Clearly, the systematic use of complex symbols cannot be arbitrary in an abstract underlying order. To characterize a linguistic level L, the descriptive power of the base component delimits an important distinction in language use.

What I find fun about this is that it almost makes sense, or at least it seems plausible that to an expert it might make sense. But there's a point in the text (for me, it's right when the text above reaches "determining nondistinctness") when my brain seems to run out of follow-the-nonsense capacity and sort of shuts down. It's similar to that feeling from high school, when I'd be reading a textbook and suddenly realize that I'd spaced out and read the same paragraph five times over, and still hadn't absorbed any of its content. This moment when language seems to break apart and lose meaning is bewildering, and maybe even pleasant -- if you're not trying to learn something.

Visit Chomskybot for more scary gibberish.

Read more on Chomskybot from Wikipedia, or see the official FAQ (which begins with the very appropriate question: "What the hell is this, anyway?"). Next week perhaps we'll dig into Colorless green ideas sleep furiously, Chomsky's famous (intentional) nonsense phrase.

More from mental_floss...

July 3, 2008 - 7:52am
webby
submit to reddit