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

An equation for Plato’s problem

Some linguists are envious of physics. We love showing off to other practitioners of the so-called humanities how we can make our field an empirical natural science that uses the hypothetico-deductive method. But, at the same time, we know that things in linguistics (as usually happens in cognitive sciences) are very different from how they … Continue reading An equation for Plato’s problem

What does it mean to understand Differential Object Marking? A Reply to Haspelmath

According to Martin Haspelmath (in a recent blogpost), differential object marking (DOM) “has been well-understood since the 1980s, but even though the explanation was clearly stated in Comrie (1989) (and also formulated clearly in Croft (1988) and Bossong (1991)), many linguists seems to have forgotten about it”. Haspelmath’s main thesis in this piece is that … Continue reading What does it mean to understand Differential Object Marking? A Reply to Haspelmath