- Series: MIT Press (Book 28)
- Paperback: 420 pages
- Publisher: The MIT Press (September 28, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0262531283
- ISBN-13: 978-0262531283
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 8.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 16 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #710,062 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Minimalist Program (Current Studies in Linguistics) 0th Edition
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From the Back Cover
The Minimalist Program consists of four recent essays, including the previously unpublished 'Categories and Transformations, ' that attempt to situate linguistic theory in the broader cognitive sciences. In these essays the minimalist approach to linguistic theory is formulated and progressively developed.
About the Author
Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor and Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus) at MIT and the author of many influential books on linguistics, including Aspects of the Theory of Syntax and The Minimalist Program, both published by the MIT Press.
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In any case, I'll use this "review" space for my notes on the text. This book is important reading. Reading through and experiencing the theoretical history and revisions that lead to current day Minimalist theorizing is more important than the technical or concrete solutions Chomsky arrives at.
One thing stood out for me in Chapter 4: it is clearer for me now just how much "anti-Chomskyans" (using specifically that polemic term) are off the mark in a certain way -- Chomsky is NOT setting down some sort of gospel for weak-willed linguists to follow. Unfortunately there is a lot of unhelpful, ad hominem discourse in linguistics about how MP syntacticians are merely "Chomsky's followers" and following "Chomskyan dogma" that just wastes everyone's energy. Anyone who spends any time with this book will understand, sympathetic to the actual content of the Minimalist Program or not, that Chomsky is in good faith trying to discover something new. For example:
About his own proposal. "It is far from obvious that language should be like the Minimalist Program at all, which is just a research program" (p. 203)
The MP assumes word order is not part of the computational system, being simply a consequence of the fact that we have to articulate language in real-time. This means that "word order" is of, at best, secondary importance in "syntax". This is a huge conceptual departure from other syntactic frameworks (and even pre-MP transformational grammar), and causes a lot of problems in introductory graduate syntax courses. Chomsky does note: "these tacit assumptions [that linearity is a mere surface/PF effect] are far from innocent (p. 202)... assuming that UG settles the matter is hardly an innocuous step (p. 244)"
And he ends the novel with exactly the kind of positive spirit that all syntacticians should have: "[it is not unreasonable] to press [the MP] to the limits to see what can be discovered." (p. 349)
[NOTE: page numbers below refer to the original 420-page paperback edition.]
He wrote in the Introduction to this 1995 book, “The chapters that are based in large part on regular lecture-seminars at MIT from 1986 through 1994… This work is motivated by two related questions: (1) what are the general conditions that the human language faculty should be expected to satisfy? And (2) to what extent is the language faculty determined by these conditions, without special structure that lies beyond them? The first question in turn has two aspects: what conditions are imposed on the language faculty by virtue of (A) its place within the array of cognitive systems of the mind/brain, and (B) general conditions of conceptual naturalness that have some independent plausibility, namely, simplicity, economy, symmetry, nonredundancy, and the like?... To the extent that the answer to question (2) is positive, language is something like a ‘perfect system,’ meeting external constraints as well as can be done, in one of the reasonable ways. The Minimalist program for linguistic theory seeks to explore these possibilities.” (Pg. 1)
He explains, “The Minimalist Program shares several underlying factual assumptions with its predecessors back to the early 1950s… One is that there is a component of the human mind/brain dedicated to language---the language faculty---interacting with other systems… the language faculty has at least two components: a cognitive system that stores information, and performance systems that access that information and use it in various ways… Performance systems are presumably at least in part language-specific, hence components of the language faculty. But they are generally assumed not to be language-specific.” (Pg. 2)
He suggests, “The language faculty has an initial state, genetically determined; in the normal course of development it passes through a series of states in early childhood, reaching a relatively stable steady state that undergoes little subsequent change, apart from the lexicon. To a good first approximation, the initial state appears to be uniform for the species. Adapting traditional terms to a special usage, we call the theory of the state attained its GRAMMAR and the theory of its initial state UNIVERSAL GRAMMAR. There is also reason to believe that the initial state is in crucial respects a special characteristic of humans, with properties that appear to be unusual in the biological world.” (Pg. 14)
He explains, “The past few years have seen the development of an approach to the study of language that constitutes a fairly radical departure from the historical tradition, more so than contemporary generative grammar at its origins. I am referring to the principles-and-parameters (P&P) approach, which questions the assumption that a particular language it, in essence, a specific rule system. If this approach is correct, then within syntax… there are no rules for particular languages and no construction-specific principles. A language is not, then, a system of rules, but a set of specifications for parameters in an invariant system of principles of Universal Grammar (UG); and traditional grammatical constructions are perhaps best regarded as taxonomic epigrammatical constructions are perhaps best regarded as taxonomic epiphenomena, collections of structures with properties resulting from the interaction of fixed principles with parameters set one way or another way.” (Pg. 129)
He states, “If so, there is only one computational system and one lexicon, apart from this limited kind of variety. Let us tentatively adopt that assumption---extreme, perhaps, but it seems not implausible---as another element of the Minimalist Program… UG provides a format for permissible rule systems; any instantiation of this format constitutes a specific language. Each language is a rich and intricate system of rules that are, typically, construction-particular and language-particular: the rules forming verb phrases of passives or relative clauses in English, for example, are specific to THESE constructions in THIS language. Similarities across constructions and languages derive from properties of the format for rules systems. The more recent … P&P approach… [is] taking steps toward the minimalist design just sketched. UG provides a fixed system of principles and a finite array of finitely value parameters.” (Pg. 170)
He cautions, “In pursuing a minimalist program, we want to make sure that we are not inadvertently sneaking in improper concepts, entities, relations, and conventions… The more spare the assumptions, the more intricate the argument is likely to be.” (Pg. 225)
He says, “the Minimalist Program, right or wrong, has a certain therapeutic value. It is all too easy to succumb to the temptation to offer a purported explanation for some phenomena on the basis of assumptions that are of roughly the order of complexity of what is to be explained. If the assumptions have broader scope, that may be a step forward in understanding. But sometimes they do not. Minimalist demands at least have the merit of highlighting such moves, thus sharpening the question of whether we have a genuine explanation or a restatement of a problem in other terms.” (Pg. 233-234)
This is a complex and somewhat technical work, but it will be of great interest to anyone studying Chomskyan linguistics.