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THREE FACTORS IN LANGUAGE DESIGN
By Noam Chomsky
The biolinguistic perspective regards the language faculty as an ``organ of the body,'' along with other cognitive systems. Adopting it, we expect to find three factors that interact to determine (I-) languages attained: genetic endowment (the topic of Universal Grammar), experience, and principles that are language- or even organism-independent. Research has naturally focused on I-languages and UG, the problems of descriptive and explanatory adequacy. The Principles-and-Parameters approach opened the possibility for serious investigation of the third factor, and the attempt to account for properties of language in terms of general considerations of computational efficiency, eliminating some of the technology postulated as specific to language and providing more principled explanation of linguistic phenomena.
Keywords: minimalism, principled explanation, Extended Standard Theory, Principles-and-Parameters, internal/external Merge, singlecycle derivation, phase
Source: Linguistic Inquiry, winter 2005
Note: Expanded from talk at LSA conference, Jan. 9, 2004. Thanks to Cedric Boeckx, Robert Freidin, Lyle Jenkins, Howard Lasnik, and Luigi Rizzi, among others, for comments on an earlier draft. See an earlier version.
Chomsky's twenty-two page article is a state of the art declaration of great clarity and very comprehensive. Still, it carries many questions yet to be answered.
One of these questions is: if language is such a unique system, containing principles that are not present in other cognitive systems, as he repeatedly claims, then why concepts of Mathematics and Logic can be applied to its study, as in the case of other cognitive systems? I do believe in the uniqueness of language, but such belief does not entail that language and other cognitive system do not share similarities and that the fundamental formal principles are present in more than one system. For instance, the principle of Economy or, more precisely, Economy of Derivations, which Chomsky proposes in the Minimalist Programme, can be part of many other systems. I think he uniqueness of language rests on the fact that language performs a number of unique functions, which cannot be performed by any other cognitive systems. In orther words, if a cognitive system is able to perform the functions that a language plays or replace language, such system is or becomes a language too.
See also the entry on Fernando Pereira's paper.