Chomsky’s Science of Language

Written by Professor James McGilvray

Many linguists and cognitive scientists resist Chomsky’s Minimalist Program.  As there have been for the past 50 years, there are, of course, still those who object to Chomsky’s long-held nativist and internalist methodological assumptions, and these assumptions remain at the roots of Minimalism.  But now with this advanced post-parameters program we find in addition resistance to one or more of the following:  to the specific form of biolinguistics Chomsky adopts, to his view of the evolution of language, to the idea that the language system is (close to) perfect, to offering principled explanations, and to the very idea that linguistics should be studied by using the same methods as those employed by physicists and chemists – that is, to the idea that linguistics is a natural science.

Chomsky, The Science of LanguageTo the extent that this resistance is based on misunderstanding Chomsky’s views, the Science of Language interview volume should help specialists and the general reader understand, and perhaps appreciate what Chomsky and others who work within the Minimalist program are attempting.  In our discussions, Chomsky explains clearly and fully many of his views on language and how he believes it should be studied.  The discussion is wide-ranging and extends to Chomsky’s debt to and relationship with his early mentor Nelson Goodman, to his views of human nature and ethics, and to the status of the social sciences.  Where further explanation and clarification might be useful, I attempt to offer it in extensive commentaries and appendices.

The Science of Language is available to purchase from Cambridge University Press for $24.99 / £15.99.

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