Linguistic Minimalism: Origins, Concepts, Methods, and Aims

Linguistic Minimalism: Origins, Concepts, Methods, and Aims

Linguistic Minimalism: Origins, Concepts, Methods, and Aims

Linguistic Minimalism: Origins, Concepts, Methods, and Aims

Synopsis

The Minimalist Program for linguistic theory is Noam Chomsky's boldest and most radical version of his naturalistic approach to language. Cedric Boeckz examines its foundations, explains its underlying philosophy, exemplifies its methods, and considers the significance of its empiricalresults. He explores the roots and antecedents of the Program and shows how its methodologies parallel those of sciences such as physics and biology. He disentangles and clarifies current debates and issues around the nature of minimalist research in linguistics and shows how the aims and ambitionsof the Minimalist Program lie at the centre of the enterprise to understand how the human language faculty operates in the mind and is manifested in the world's languages. Professor Boeckx writes for advanced and graduate students of linguistics and for all those, in fields such as cognitive science and evolutionary biology, who want to know more about current developments in theoretical linguistics.

Excerpt

The goal of the present volume is to synthesize and clarify ideas that may seem to some to be more imaginative or more outrageous than anything to be found in the pages of modern novels; ideas that at first sound, in the words of Bill Bryson, 'worryingly like the sort of thoughts that would make you edge away if conveyed to you by a stranger on a park bench'. the central idea to be discussed is that our human language capacity, our 'language instinct' as Pinker (1994) calls it, shows signs of optimal design and exquisite organization that may indicate the inner workings of very simple and general computational (physical and mathematical) laws in a mental organ. This idea was first formulated by Noam Chomsky in the early 1990s, and has been investigated systematically since then by linguists and other cognitive scientists under the rubric of the Minimalist Program. For now I want to refer to this enterprise as the minimalist gamble and tell you why a group of serious, professional, and wellinformed scientists think their wild minimalist ideas have a chance of being true.

Scientists at all times make the standard gamble that the portion of the world they are investigating can be understood in a simple fashion, that the world is not as 'messy' as it looks, that it shows signs of organization, and that it is governed by laws of general applicability. Clearly, there must be more to the minimalist gamble than that. Otherwise, a book like the present one would have little reason to exist. Fortunately, there is more, much more to the minimalist gamble than the standard, universal search for simplicity in our quest for understanding. and it is that which makes the minimalist program in need of careful exposition and clarification.

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