Noam Chomsky – The biolinguistic turn lecture notes – part eleven


The phenomenal properties of these artifacts result from the interaction of invariant principles of the initial state (=the faculty of language) with a finite number of parameters fixed in one or another way. It would incidentally follow that there are only finitely many possible human languages apart from idiosyncrasy and choice of lexical items. And even these are sharply constrained. That means that the problem of unfeasible search is eliminate, its a major conclusion if correct. The conception has now been applied to typologically different languages of just about every known kind.

It lead to many discoveries, a host of new questions that where never before contemplated, sometimes suggested answers. This princibles and parameters approach is an approach. Its not a theory. Within the general approach there are many differse theories. There is actually a very good introduction to the topic by just published by Mark BakerAtoms of language. He himself made major contributions to the approach. He is been working primarily on languages that appear to be at opposite ends of the spectrum of typological possibilities. Picking that on purpose of course. Mohawk and English, thats the pair he studies most intensifly trying to show that altough they are about as different phenomenally as two languages can be they are in reality virtuall identical apart from very small changes in a view parameters. Thake say a Marsian observer who views Humans as we do other organisms would conclude that they are essentialy identical. Dialectical varience of the same language.

There is been extensive work of a similar character carried out worldwide with quiet revealing results. One major programm funded by the European Union is studying the vast number of languages in Europe. Missleadingly called things like German and Italien and so on thoe the where totaly different languages. Included by this characterisations. And its beeing done elsewhere as well. I dont wanna suggest that the approach has been established. That is very far from true but it has been very succsessful as a research program. As a stimulus to empirical and theoretical inquiry. Progress towards the goals of descriptive and explanatory adequacy has far surpass anything that preceeds. Not only in depth of analysis of particular languages but also in the range of typological different languages that have been investigated and also new areas of linguistic structure that had barrely bin explored before.

Related field, such as the study of language aquisition, have also been completely revitalized within a similar framework. They now look totaly unlike anything that was around 20-30 years ago. There are some important steps towards convergence altho its certainly gonna be a long and difficult course even the approach turns out to be on the right track. We are far from having a clear idea of what the principles and parameters actually are. But I think it is fair to say that the study of language, in the last 20 years, has moved to an entirely new plane.

I wanna pick up these topics tomorrow and then move on to the issues, particlary the third factor – general properties of organisms. And then to move on the questions of intentionality. That is the question of how language now understood within the biolinguistic framework relates to the rest of the world.

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Filed under The Biolinguistic turn - Noam Chomsky

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