Academic journal article Analysis and Metaphysics

How to Make Sense of the Modal Logic of Analytic Truth from a Linguistic Naturalist Perspective

Academic journal article Analysis and Metaphysics

How to Make Sense of the Modal Logic of Analytic Truth from a Linguistic Naturalist Perspective

Article excerpt


The core tenet of the Chomskyan philosophy of language and linguistics is that language is a part of the natural world. According to this perspective, human language is a result of a language faculty in the human mind, ultimately the human brain. The representation and implementation of language, on this perspective, thus cannot be logically separated from language itself. This language faculty contains an internal system that generates phonetic, formal and semantic representations. These representations, together with the generative system itself, compose an internal language. This resultant internal language is called an "I-language," and I-languages are taken to be the foundation of all human language. The theory of a particular language is its grammar, while that which all languages share at their biological core is called "Universal Grammar" or "UG," "a theory of the initial state S0 of the relevant component of the language faculty" (The Minimalist Program, 167).

While Chomskyan linguists often talk (some think inconsistently) about common sense public languages such as French, Wolof, Swahili, etc., according to their paradigm, analysis of these languages is not the ultimate goal of their science. The ultimate goal of their science is to understand the internalized languages of individuals and the core biological principles that all of these internalized languages ultimately share. When Chomskyans talk about internalized languages and the biological principles they follow, ultimately, they really are talking about the languages particular to individuals.

Chomsky understands language as a system of internal representations in human minds, ultimately in human brains. The brain, according to Chomsky, has a modular component used specifically for language. The study of this human language faculty can be understood as the study of the initial state of this modular component of the mind. It is the language faculty in this initial state that interacts with the input to language learning, (whatever exactly that is), so as to produce words, phrases and sentences. The language faculty takes the input to language learning and from it generates what we would more commonly call a person's language. The faculty is also called a "generative grammar," from which comes the name of the discipline of generative linguistics.

There are (at least) two senses of the term "language" that emerge from this picture that must be sharply distinguished. Chomsky uses the term "language" to refer to the generative grammar itself, but it is also, of course, often used to describe the output of the generative grammar. Recognizing these distinct senses of "language" allows us to see that Chomsky's claims that, for example, "Peter's language 'generates' the expressions of his language" are not circular. It is the "language" in the sense of the grammar that generates the "language" in the sense of a set of sentences (New Horizons..., 5).

Further systematic ambiguity can be found in Chomsky's use of the term "grammar." While, on the one hand, Chomsky considers one's grammar to be the state of the language faculty that combines with language learning input to produce grammatical expressions, on the other, "grammar" is also used as a term for the scientific description of the language faculty put forward by the theoretical linguist. This ambiguity is complicated by Chomsky's use of person-level mental terms such as "knowledge" and "theory" to describe the mental representation of the language faculty itself. He writes, for instance, that one's generative grammar is one's "theory of his language." Chomsky exegesis aside, this person-level terminology I think should be read as metaphorical. The grammar is simply the system of representations that combine with language learning input to determine complexes of instructions for articulation, perception and the systematic organization of thought - viz. the performance systems (New Horizons. …

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