American linguists have a secret. We knew about Hugh Laurie (T.V.’s House) before the rest of country did, and we were a bit surprised by his American accent.
In this excerpt from a British TV comedy skit show Laurie once did with Stephen Fry (“A Bit of Fry and Laurie“), the pair mock a lot of linguistic theory, most notably that of one of our more famous linguists, Noam Chomsky.
For those of you who aren’t linguists, Chomsky is quite famous (to us) for theories about the universality of grammatical structures, which he views as separate from semantics (meaning). To emphasize this point, he uses the sentences “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” which, while meaningless, is grammatically correct.
In the first skit in this link, Laurie’s character interviews Fry-the-would-be-linguist. Laurie’s character is quickly lost disorganized snippets of linguistic theory, particularly when Fry provides the following example:
“So that I can say the following sentence and be utterly sure that nobody has ever said it before in the history of the human communication: ‘Hold the newsreader’s nose squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers.'”
Fry continues, providing a monologue that continues to poke fun at the “colorless green ideas” example, both by providing a list of the kinds of colorless things we say and through an illustration of an amazing array of verbal ticks.
The second skit also mocks the linguistic/philosophical debates about the nature of language, but you should experience the beauty of this skit without further analysis.