Linguistics Noam Chomsky
by
Terje Lohndal, Howard Lasnik
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0142

Introduction

Avram Noam Chomsky was born in Philadelphia on 7 December 1928. His father, William Chomsky, was a noted Hebrew scholar. Chomsky came to the University of Pennsylvania to study, and there he met Zellig S. Harris through their common political interests. Chomsky’s first encounter with Harris’s work was when he proofread Harris’s 1951 book Methods in Structural Linguistics (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press). The independent work that Chomsky then started to do resulted in serious revision of Harris’s approach, including the proposal that syntax, in part, is a matter of abstract representation. This led to a number of highly influential papers and books, which together have defined modern linguistics. After Chomsky spent 1951–1955 as a junior fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, he joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, under the sponsorship of Morris Halle. Chomsky was promoted to full professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics in 1961 and appointed the Ferrari P. Ward Professorship of Modern Languages and Linguistics in 1966 and Institute Professor in 1976. In 1967 both the University of Chicago and the University of London awarded him honorary degrees, and since then he has been the recipient of scores of honors and awards. In 1988 he was awarded the Kyoto Prize in Basic Ssciences, created in 1984 (along with prizes in two other categories) in order to recognize work in areas not included among the Nobel Prizes. These honors are all a testament to Chomsky’s influence and impact on linguistics, and cognitive science more generally, since the mid-20th century. He has continually revised and updated his technical analyses, from phrase structure grammars; to the standard theory, in the 1960s; to the extended standard theory and X-bar theory, in the 1970s; to the principles and parameters theory and its variant, the minimalist program. Over the years the technical details have changed, sometimes dramatically, but many of the core assumptions, as laid out in his foundational work, have remained essentially the same. His work both has been applauded and criticized but remains central to investigations of language.

Foundational Work

As Zellig S. Harris’s student, Chomsky was deeply immersed in structural linguistics, and his first works were attempts to extend the method in Harris’s 1951 book Methods in Structural Linguistics, as in Chomsky 1951. Harris had one sentence transform into another, and Chomsky soon discovered data that could not be captured using such a method, as discussed in Chomsky 1957 and Chomsky 1962. Instead, Chomsky had to appeal to abstract structures, and this is what he did in two of his most famous, and groundbreaking, works: The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory (LSLT) (Chomsky 1975) and Syntactic Structures (Chomsky 1957). Chomsky 1975 was written while Chomsky was a junior fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University and completed in 1955. It was only published in 1975, with a comprehensive introduction that outlines the development of the manuscript. Whereas both of these texts are concerned with formal details, Chomsky 1959, a review of B. F. Skinner’s book Verbal Behavior, focused on questions of language use and creativity. This review quickly gained fame for demonstrating the fundamental problems of behaviorism. Chomsky 1965 outlines a theory of language embedded in the human mind (see also Chomsky 1964). The first chapter of this book is essential reading for anyone who wants to attain a basic understanding of Chomsky’s ideas. In this chapter, he attempts to define a distinct, scientific project for linguistics: “scientific” because it aims to explain what underlies individual linguistic abilities, and “distinct” because the properties of human language appear to be special. Chomsky 1957, Chomsky 1959, and Chomsky 1965 are quite accessible and still relevant to contemporary debates.

  • Chomsky, Noam. 1951. Morphophonemics of modern Hebrew. MA diss., Univ. of Pennsylvania.

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    In this thesis, Chomsky discusses certain morphophonemic alternations in modern Hebrew. He is particularly concerned with the simplicity of this grammar and how to design other such grammars.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 1955. Transformational analysis. PhD diss., Univ. of Pennsylvania.

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    This doctoral dissertation was based on one chapter from Chomsky 1975.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 1957. Syntactic structures. Janua Linguarum 4. The Hague: Mouton.

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    Chomsky’s first published book, introducing transformational syntax. This book also contains the important discoveries and insights regarding the English auxiliary system that were used to motivate abstract structures.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 1959. Verbal behavior by B. F. Skinner. Language 35.1: 26–58.

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    This famous review of B. F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior gave behaviorism the silver bullet and laid the ground for modern cognitive science. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 1962. A transformational approach to syntax. In Proceedings of the Third Texas Conference on Problems of Linguistic Analysis in English, May 9–12, 1958. Edited by Archibald A. Hill, 124–148. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

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    An outline of a transformational approach to syntax, including a comparison with the work of Zellig S. Harris.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 1964. Current issues in linguistic theory. Papers presented at the Ninth International Congress of Linguists, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1962. Janua Linguarum 38. The Hague: Mouton.

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    This short book details the goals of linguistic theory and the nature of structural descriptions for both syntax and phonology.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 1965. Aspects of the theory of syntax. MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics Special Technical Report 11. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    One of Chomsky’s most important publications. The first chapter (pp. 3–62) defines his way of approaching the study of language as a component of the human mind and emphasizes the goal that theory should account for how a child can acquire a language. The theory described here is known as the standard theory.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 1975. The logical structure of linguistic theory. New York: Plenum.

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    Chomsky’s monumental work, completed in 1955 and published in 1975. Lays out the formal basis for a complete theory of linguistic structure. The concepts and technical notions (level of representation and syntactic transformation, among many others) that became central to linguistic theorizing were introduced in this text.

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Formal Grammars

In the 1950s, Chomsky pursued the idea that a sentence is the result of a computation that produces a “derivation.” This computation starts with an abstract structural representation that is sequentially altered by operations that are structure dependent. These operations quickly became known as transformations. Based on work on recursive function theory in the late 1930s, Chomsky was able to refine the idea, and he developed algebraic linguistics, a branch of abstract algebra (part of the field of computer science, in the early 21st century). Chomsky wrote several important papers, including Chomsky 1956, Chomsky 1959, Chomsky 1963, and Chomsky and Schützenberger 1963, in which he introduced what would later be referred to as the Chomsky hierarchy (also called the Chomsky Schützenberger hierarchy). Together with the renowned cognitive scientist George Miller, he also wrote an influential paper (Chomsky and Miller 1963) in which the distinction between competence and performance first emerged. Peters and Ritchie 1973 is a well-known formalization of the theory developed in Chomsky 1965 (cited under Foundational Work). Jäger and Rogers 2012 is an overview and assessment of Chomsky’s work on formal grammars.

Introductions and Biographies

There are many books that present Noam Chomsky’s work, both his linguistic study and his political activities. There are few books, however, that go into great detail about Chomsky’s life; the best one is Barsky 1997. Barsky 2011 is mainly concerns Chomsky’s teacher, Zellig S. Harris, but it has a lot of valuable material on the environment in which Chomsky grew up as well as on the relationship between Harris and Chomsky. Lyons 1970, McGilvray 1999, McGilvray 2005, and Smith 2004 all provide more in-depth examination of Chomsky’s ideas and work. Bracken 1984 contains one of the best discussions of the relation between Chomsky and Descartes. Bricmont and Franck 2010 is a collection of essays that introduce numerous topics from a Chomskyan perspective.

Interviews

There have been countless interviews with Chomsky over the years. Chomsky 1982, Chomsky 2004b, and Chomsky 2012 are book-length interviews. Chomsky 2004a contains several interviews about language and mind, although the main focus is Chomsky’s political views. Beckwith and Rispoli 1986 is an interview concentrating on language, learning, and psychology. Cheng and Sybesma 1995 and Cela-Conde and Marty 1998 are devoted to the minimalist program.

Assessments

There are a number of assessments of Chomsky’s ideas and work. They all cite much relevant literature that should be explored further. Lees 1957 is an influential review of Chomsky’s first book, Syntactic Structures (see Chomsky 1957, cited under Foundational Work). Harman 1974 is an early collection of essays on Chomsky’s approach to language. Hymes 2001 reprints a 1971 critique of Chomsky’s distinction between competence and performance. Cowie 1999 and Sampson 2005 are more recent critical discussions of Chomsky’s work on language. Otero 1994 is a very comprehensive assessment of Chomsky’s work, including reprints of previously published papers that can be hard to access. Antony and Hornstein 2003 is a collection of advanced essays on Chomsky’s linguistic work. Piattelli-Palmarini 1980 contains a classical discussion of a meeting in which Chomsky and Jean Piaget debated their different views on language and cognition.

Textbooks

There are many textbooks on generative syntax, as developed by Chomsky. Included here are a few that will provide a useful introduction to various periods and aspects of Chomsky’s work, both technical and more general. Adger 2003 is an accessible introduction to syntax from a minimalist program perspective, whereas Hornstein, et al. 2005 gives a more in-depth introduction, based on what government and binding had accomplished. Radford 2009 is yet another introduction to the minimalist program, mostly stressing English data. Boeckx 2006 presents the minimalist program and offers the best discussion of its conceptual and historical origins and motivations. Haegeman 1994 is the most authoritative introduction to government and binding. Lasnik 2000 goes through the Chomsky’s early work and then looks at connections between that work and more contemporary theories, such as the minimalist program. Jenkins 2000 focuses especially on the biological orientation to grammar, as found in Chomsky’s work. For introductions to his philosophy of language, see Introductions and Biographies.

Extended Standard Theory

In the 1970s the extended standard theory grew out of the standard theory, as presented in Chomsky 1965 (cited under Foundational Work). In particular, the theory of semantic interpretation is significantly changed, with surface structure playing an increasingly significant role (Chomsky 1970b, Chomsky 1972, Chomsky 1975). It is also during this period that X-bar theory is proposed for the first time (Chomsky 1970a) (although the conception of this theory changes quite a bit in the early 1980s). During this period, Chomsky published a series of highly influential papers. Chomsky 1973 and Chomsky 1977 are especially important for their attempts at generalizing the locality constraints on movement that John Robert Ross discovered in his 1967 Massachusetts Institute of Technology dissertation “Constraints on Variables in Syntax” (see also Chomsky 1976). Chomsky and Lasnik 1977 is also significant as a predecessor of principles and parameters theory.

  • Chomsky, Noam. 1970a. Remarks on nominalization. In Readings in English transformational grammar. Edited by Roderick A. Jacobs and Peter S. Rosenbaum, 184–221. Waltham, MA: Ginn.

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    A paper that provides a strikinglynontransformational view of how the derivation of complex words fits into the grammar. Also suggests the X-bar theory of phrase structure, whereby every phrase is a projection of a head.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 1970b. Deep structure, surface structure and semantic interpreation. In Studies in general and Oriental linguistics, presented to Shirô Hattori on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday. Edited by Roman Jakobson and Shigeo Kawamoto, 52–91. Tokyo: Tokyo English Center.

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    This paper addresses the inadequacies of the standard theory. Chomsky proposes a revised theory of semantic interpretation, lessening the role of deep structure.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 1972. Studies on semantics in generative grammar. Janua Linguarum 107. The Hague: Mouton.

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    A collection of three essays defining extended standard theory. The status of deep structure is a central concern.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 1973. Conditions on transformations. In A festschrift for Morris Halle. Edited by Stephen R. Anderson and Paul Kiparsky, 232–286. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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    Chomsky’s first far-reaching attempt at replacing conditions on specific transformations with general constraints on transformations that would capture restrictions on movement (e.g., subjacency) and relations more generally (e.g., the tensed sentence condition).

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 1975. Questions of form and interpretation. Linguistic Analysis 1.1: 75–109.

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    A general paper on questions related to interpretation and grammatical levels.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 1976. Conditions on rules of grammar. Linguistic Analysis 2.4: 303–351.

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    This paper develops and refines the theory in “Conditions on Transformations” (see Chomsky 1973), whereby all movement rules leave behind a trace. Certain previous constraints on movement now become constraints on the relation between a trace and its antecedent.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 1977. On wh-movement. Paper presented at the Mathematical Social Science Board–UC Irvine Conference on the Formal Syntax of Natural Language, Newport Beach, CA, 1–11 June 1976. In Formal syntax. Edited by Peter W. Culicover, Thomas Wasow, and Adrian Akmajian, 71–132. New York: Academic Press.

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    Chomsky argues that what had been considered a range of different transformations should all be captured as instantiations of wh movement.

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  • Chomsky, Noam, and Howard Lasnik. 1977. Filters and control. Linguistic Inquiry 8.3: 425–504.

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    Focusing on explanatory adequacy, this paper suggests that transformational rules are very general and that the output of these rules is filtered out in order to yield only grammatical representations.

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Principles and Parameters Theory

Toward the end of the 1970s, in part through the work done together with Howard Lasnik in their 1977 paper (see Chomsky and Lasnik 1977, cited under Extended Standard Theory), Chomsky started developing a new approach, whereby language- and construction-specific rules are replaced by very general operations. Certain operations and rules are universal, and they constitute the principles. There is limited variation among the world’s languages, and this variation is considered to be captured by parameters. If true, these principles and parameters would provide a solution to the fundamental problem of language acquisition. Chomsky 1981 outlines this program; more details can be found in Lectures on Government and Binding (see Chomsky 1981, cited under Government and Binding). Chomsky and Lasnik 1993 is a synthesis of work that happened throughout the 1980s, and it laid the ground for the minimalist program. More recently the logic and empirical validity behind principles and parameters have been criticized (Newmeyer 2005, Boeckx 2011). Principles and parameters theory comes in two different guises: One guise is government and binding, the approach that Chomsky developed c. 1980. The other guise is the minimalist program, which began to develop in the late 1980s and which continues its evolution in the early 21st century. These are superficially very different, but there is also a sense of continuity between the two; the minimalist program can be seen as a rationalization of the principles and generalizations that were discovered during government and binding.

  • Boeckx, Cedric. 2011. Approaching parameters from below. In The biolinguistic enterprise: New perspectives on the evolution and nature of the human language faculty. Edited by Anna Maria Di Sciullo and Cedric Boeckx, 205–221. Oxford Linguistics. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A critique of the principles and parameters framework from a minimalist program perspective.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 1981. Principles and parameters in syntactic theory. In Explanation in linguistics: The logical problem of language acquisition. Edited by Norbert Hornstein and David Lightfoot, 32–75. Longman Linguistics Library 25. London and New York: Longman.

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    An outline of principles and parameters theory.

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  • Chomsky, Noam, and Howard Lasnik. 1993. The theory of principles and parameters. In Syntax: An international handbook of contemporary research. Vol. 1. Edited by Joachim Jacobs, Arnim von Stechow, Wolfgang Sternefeld, and Theo Venneman, 506–569. Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 9. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter.

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    An overview of the principles and parameters theory, as developed in government and binding and early aspects of the minimalist program.

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  • Newmeyer, Frederick J. 2005. Possible and probable languages: A generative perspective on linguistic typology. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199274338.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A critique of the principles and parameters approach, arguing that the crosslinguistic generalizations that it relies on are less solid than previously assumed.

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Government and Binding

This approach is based on the interaction of several modules (subtheories), government and binding being two of the most important ones. Principles such as the theta criterion and the extended projection principle were formulated and explored, and, in one form or another, they are still an important part of early-21st-century theories. Chomsky 1980 examines indexing and case theory in particular, whereas Chomsky 1981 offers a comprehensive theory of syntax. Chomsky 1982 and Chomsky 1986a develop this further by studying parasitic gaps, a topic that plays a prominent role in government and binding. Lasnik 1994 is included in this section because it provides a useful overview of the development of Chomsky’s proposals concerning anaphora and binding theory, from 1973 to 1986. Chomsky 1986b introduces the distinction between I-language and E-language, explaining that I-language refers to the study of the individual and internal language of a speaker, whereas and E-language is a broad label for language use.

The Minimalist Program

The principles and parameters theory developed in the late 1980s into the minimalist program. Four papers are collected in Chomsky 1995. Chapter 2 was written and circulated in 1988, based on lectures in 1986 and 1987. It was originally published in 1991 (see Principles and Parameters in Comparative Grammar, edited by Robert Freidin [Cambridge, MA: MIT Press]). Chapter 1 is the essay Chomsky and Lasnik 1993 (cited under Principles and Parameters Theory), on principles and parameters, whereas chapters 3 and 4 offer more detailed presentations of the minimalist program. The goal of the minimalist program is to rationalize the principles of government and binding, that is, to provide a deeper understanding of the core syntactic mechanisms and operations. Since the 1990s the program has continued to develop, and Chomsky 2000, Chomsky 2001, Chomsky 2004, Chomsky 2007, and Chomsky 2008 all further the technical and conceptual details. In particular, these works have conceived the notion of a phase, a specific domain of syntactic computation. Berwick, et al. 2011 revisits poverty of stimulus arguments, that is, arguments postulating the existence of innate, tacit knowledge of language.

  • Berwick, Robert C., Paul Pietroski, Beracah Yankama, and Noam Chomsky. 2011. Poverty of the stimulus revisited. Cognitive Science 35.7: 1207–1242.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2011.01189.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A reply to several publications on the poverty of stimulus, clarifying the logic behind the concept. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 1995. The minimalist program. Current Studies in Linguistics 28. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    A collection of four essays that illustrate the development of the minimalist program as well as presenting many of its technicalities.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 2000. Minimalist inquiries: The framework. In Step by step: Essays on minimalist syntax in honor of Howard Lasnik. Edited by Roger Martin, David Michaels, and Juan Uriagereka, 89–155. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    In this paper, Chomsky introduces the concept of a phase (encompassing some aspects of the earlier “cyclic node” and “barrier”), which has become an important part of the minimalist program.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 2001. Derivation by phase. In Ken Hale: A life in language. Edited by Michael Kenstowicz, 1–52. Current Studies in Linguistics 36. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    This paper further develops the notion of phase.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 2004. Beyond explanatory adequacy. Paper presented at a workshop held in Siena, 1999. In The cartography of syntactic structures. Vol. 3, Structures and beyond. Edited by Adriana Belletti, 104–131. Oxford Studies in Comparative Syntax. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Here, Chomsky suggests that the study of human language can move beyond explanatory adequacy and asks why language is structured just the way it is.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 2007. Approaching UG from below. In Interfaces + recursion = language? Chomsky’s minimalism and the view from syntax-semantics. Edited by Uli Sauerland and Hans-Martin Gärtner, 1–29. Studies in Generative Grammar 89. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

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    This paper focuses on making universal grammar as small as possible.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 2008. On phases. In Foundational issues in linguistic theory: Essays in honor of Jean-Roger Vergnaud. Edited by Robert Freidin, Carlos P. Otero, and María-Luísa Zubizarreta, 133–166. Current Studies in Linguistics 45. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    This paper further develops the technology for phase-based derivations.

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Biolinguistics

Since the early 2000s it has become increasingly common to use the label “biolinguistics” instead of “minimalist program.” In the literature there is disagreement as to whether biolinguistics is just another name for Chomskyan generative grammar, or whether it is a new approach, with a different focus, compared with the minimalist program. With Hauser, et al. 2002 and Fitch, et al. 2005, a whole subfield has been devoted to studying language evolution and trying to figure out what the unique and language-specific parts are of our genetic endowment. Chomsky 2005 provides a framework in which one can study the different factors that enter into the design of language, and this is further developed in Chomsky 2010 and in Berwick and Chomsky 2011. Uriagereka 1998 is an early textbook attempt at exploring the biology of language from essentially the perspective later presented in Chomsky 2005.

Phonology

Although most of Chomsky’s linguistic work has been on syntax and the philosophy of language, he also did groundbreaking work in phonology (Chomsky 1967). Much of this research was in collaboration with Morris Halle, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Chomsky and Halle 1968 is a momentous book, studying the phonology of English in great detail (see also Chomsky and Halle 1965). Here, the authors introduced as well a theory of markedness, which came to play a significant role in syntax in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as in the paper “Filters and Control,” written together with Howard Lasnik (see Chomsky and Lasnik 1977, cited under Extended Standard Theory). Another influential paper was coauthored with Halle and Fred Lukoff (Chomsky, et al. 1956). In this paper the concept of a phonological cycle was presented, and the notion of a cycle has been a cornerstone of all generative work on syntax since the mid-1960s.

Philosophy of Language

Chomsky has made profound contributions to the philosophy of language and philosophy of mind. In addition to developing his own approach, he has been at pains to situate his work in relation to more mainstream work within the philosophy of language. In particular, he has discussed and criticized philosophers such as Willard Quine, Hilary Putnam, John Searle, Paul Grice, and Michael Dummett for their work based on externalism and referentiality. Chomsky has also argued that formal semantics, as traditionally developed by Gottlob Frege, Alfred Tarski, and Richard Montague, is fundamentally misguided when it comes to natural language because of the emphasis on denotation and truth. Instead, Chomsky has advocated an approach based on internalism of meaning, and he has focused more on meaning than on semantics. The relevant publications are divided into Early Contributions and Later Contributions although it is suggested that there are not any significant differences between these two categories.

Early Contributions

The first significant publication in which Chomsky presents his ideas on the philosophy of language and philosophy of mind is Chomsky 2009. Chomsky 1967 is a very accessible and useful summary of the leading ideas in Chomsky 2009. Chomsky 1975 is a very useful collection that includes a look at innateness. Chomsky 1977 and Chomsky 2005 are further developments of the author’s ideas, in part aimed at a general audience. Chomsky 1986 is well -known for introducing the distinction between I-language and E-language, and Chomsky 1988 further develops these ideas. Searle 1972 is a critical discussion of Chomsky’s views.

Later Contributions

In Chomsky 1975 (cited under Early Contributions), Chomsky introduces a distinction between problems and mysteries. Problems are things that can generally be solved, whereas mysteries may be outside the reach of our intellectual abilities. He develops this idea further in Chomsky 1991. Chomsky 1993 is a more general introduction to his ideas about the relationship between language and thought; Chomsky 2002 and Chomsky 2006 provide further details. Chomsky 2000 is the best collection of essays on the philosophy of language and mind, but arguably also the most challenging one for the reader. Chomsky 2009 is a discussion of general issues in the philosophy of mind.

  • Chomsky, Noam. 1991. Linguistics and cognitive science: Problems and mysteries. Paper presented at the international workshop “The Chomskyan Turn: Generative Linguistics, Philosophy, Mathematics, and Psychology,” Tel Aviv, 11–14 April 1988. In The Chomskyan turn. Edited by Asa Kasher, 26–53. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

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    This chapter looks at the relationship between linguistics and, in particular, the philosophy of language. Chomsky criticizes well-known approaches, such as those of Quine and Dummett. He also elaborates on his distinction between “problems” and “mysteries.”

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 1993. Language and thought. Anshen Transdisciplinary Lectureships in Art, Science, and the Philosophy of Culture 3. Wakefield, RI: Moyer Bell.

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    Introduces Chomsky’s views on the study of language and considers its influence on other disciplines.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 2000. New horizons in the study of language and mind. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511811937Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The most comprehensive and advanced examination of language and mind and of issues that are prominent in the philosophy of language literature. This book requires good background knowledge of the latter literature.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 2002. On nature and language. Edited by Adriana Belletti and Luigi Rizzi. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511613876Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This book contains two chapters by Chomsky; one that traces the history of modern linguistics and cognitive science and a second that focuses on linguistics and the brain sciences. There is also an extensive interview with Chomsky on the minimalist program.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 2006. Language and mind. 3d ed. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511791222Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Originally published in 1968. This collection of essays aimed at university audiences explores Chomsky’s views on language and mind. A very accessible introduction, without many technicalities.

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  • Chomsky, Noam. 2009. The mysteries of nature: How deeply hidden? In Special issue: Our knowledge of nature and number: Grounds and limits. Edited by Carol Rovane. Journal of Philosophy 106.4: 167–200.

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    A philosophical paper discussing the mental, mind–body, and physicalism.

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Controversies

There have been a number of controversies concerning Chomsky’s work, and the focus in this section is one of them. Harris 1993 calls this controversy the linguistics wars, referring to the debate between Chomsky and those scholars who developed generative semantics, a model proposing much more abstract underlying syntactic forms and, concomitantly, much more powerful transformational operations. Huck and Goldsmith 1995 provides another take on the same issue, though concentrating more on external reasons for the breakdown of generative semantics than Harris does. Newmeyer 1996 argues that external factors are not important and that the generative semantics enterprise ended because the theory was falsified. Seuren 1998 offers yet another perspective, in addition to discussing the history of generative linguistics.

Applications of Chomsky’s Work

Chomsky’s ideas have been applied in a number of different areas. A distinction is made between those scholars who have stayed close to Chomsky’s ideas and those who adopt a generative approach, with significant modifications.

Chomskyan Perspectives

Most of Chomsky’s work has concentrated on synchronic syntax, phonology, and the philosophy of language. There are several significant extensions of this work and of Chomsky’s ideas—far too many to do justice to in this article. Therefore, a very small selection is given and includes Lightfoot 1979 and Roberts 2007, on diachronic syntax; Crain and Thornton 1998, on acquisition; Larson and Segal 1995, McGilvray 1998, and Pietroski 2005, on meaning; and Hale and Reiss 2008 and Samuels 2011, on phonology.

Other Generative Approaches

Common to these generative approaches is that they share with Chomskyan approaches an overall commitment of providing a computational theory of syntax and other components of the grammar, but the technical assumptions differ significantly from what is found in those approaches. For example, many of these approaches to syntax do not assume transformations. Gazdar, et al. 1985 introduces generalized phrase structure grammar; Joshi 1985 and Frank 2002, tree-adjoining grammar; Kaplan and Bresnan 1982, lexical functional grammar; and Pollard and Sag 1994, head-driven phrase structure grammar. Optimality theory is included in this group because this theory is not derivational in the traditional generative way. Prince and Smolensky 2004 details this framework.

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