The Generative Grammar of the Immune System

In times of confinement due to SARS-CoV-2 virus, it is inevitable to dedicate some hopeful thoughts to the immune system. And it also seems like a good time to use our thoughts about the immune system (and its surprising effectiveness in fighting pathogens) to understand a little better the equally surprising efficiency with which our … Continue reading The Generative Grammar of the Immune System

On Nature and Nurture in Human Language

It is commonly accepted that language has both a natural and a cultural dimension. However, the main controversies in current linguistic theory have to do with the relative weight given to nature and nurture in the characterisation of human language. Here I suggest an alternative—and conciliatory—strategy to address the delimitation between language natural and cultural … Continue reading On Nature and Nurture in Human Language

Is Universal Grammar ready for retirement?

Each year the scientific magazine Edge publishes a question for the scientific community. In 2014 this question was: What scientific idea is ready for retirement? Not surprisingly, one of the responses (by Benjamin Berger) proposed the Chomskyan notion of Universal Grammar (UG); other answers included the concept of race, Moore’s law, that there is no reality in the quantum world, and … Continue reading Is Universal Grammar ready for retirement?

On language innate building blocks: An open letter to Martin Haspelmath

Dear Martin: These days I have been reading some of your recent contributions: comments on Facebook and Twitter, several blogposts and interviews from your blog (dlc.hypotheses.org), including one that you kindly made with me (dlc.hypotheses.org/1595), and a recent paper (Haspelmath 2020). In these contributions you evaluate the scientific adequacy of Generative Grammar (GG), especially in … Continue reading On language innate building blocks: An open letter to Martin Haspelmath

On Unity and Diversity in Human Language

A few years ago, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian organized an exhibition in California, in homage to the so-called code talkers. The expression code talkers refers to a small group of mainly Navajo Native Americans who worked for the US Army during the Second World War to codify its messages. In 1943, when the … Continue reading On Unity and Diversity in Human Language

On the incompleteness of syntax

Chomsky’s program for linguistics It is no coincidence that Chomsky’s two first published books (Syntactic Structures and Aspects of the Theory of Syntax) both allude to syntax in the title. He has recently pointed out that the essential basis of his approach to language (in addition to the naturalistic approach) is that each language “makes available … Continue reading On the incompleteness of syntax

Two types of linguistic theory, two conceptions of language

Yang’s (2016) Tolerance Principle describes with incredible precision how many exceptions the mechanisms of child language acquisition can tolerate to induce a productive rule, and, as I pointed out in a previous post, it is a notable advance in the long-standing controversy as to the amount of data necessary for the acquisition of language. This … Continue reading Two types of linguistic theory, two conceptions of language

Jackendoff is not crazy! (Or about phonology and consciousness)

In a commendable and sincere self-portrait, linguist Gillian Ramchand explains what it means for her to be a generativist linguist. Among the many things that she thinks you can accept while being Chomskyan is having no reason to think that Jackendoff is crazy. I completely agree. Contrary to what other (quite orthodox) generativists seem to … Continue reading Jackendoff is not crazy! (Or about phonology and consciousness)

Two languages, two minds? Horrifying Schrödinger

One of the most notable theoretical physicists of the twentieth century, Erwin Schrödinger, considered it “obvious” that there is only one human consciousness, and that the feeling of having an individual mind is just that, a feeling (Schrödinger 1944). With all due respect to the father of the wave equation of quantum mechanics (for which … Continue reading Two languages, two minds? Horrifying Schrödinger