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LS - 04 - The Generative Enterprise (1)

LS - 04 - The Generative Enterprise (1) - Chapter 4 The...

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Chapter 4 The Generative Enterprise Introduction C homsky’s approach is or used to be called “generative – transformational grammar.” Generative refers to the fact that the grammar is seen as an explicit system that generates or characterizes the wellformedness of linguistic expressions. Transformational refers to an aspect of the theory (namely the use of so-called transformational rules) that I will discuss later in some detail. People often leave out Transformational and simply speak of Generative Grammar. Focus on I-Language G enerative grammar studies language, or rather the underlying mental grammar (competence, I-language), as a property of an individual. There is no guarantee that any two I-languages will ever be identical, not even of people who are said to speak the same language. The only aspect of grammars that is identical, in all people, is the part that is innate, although since innate can only mean genetic we must perhaps reckon with language mutants , or, to put it more friendly, with genetically determined variations in mental grammars. Little is known about such genetic variation. Generative grammarians foremost see linguistics as a branch of biology, more properly genetics, since, ultimately, the primary interest lies in developing theories of the innate, thus genetic, aspects of language. In addition, of course, there is an interest in maturation and development of human organisms, especially with regard to the development of their language organ to be physically located somewhere in the brain. With its emphasis on these issues linguistics is biolinguistics for Chomskyan hard-liners. One might wonder whether linguistics then is a branch of behavior genetics (a branch of science that studies the genetic and environmental basis of differences in human behavior) or perhaps of evolutionary psychology , an approach that seeks to establish universals of human behavior, trying to explain their existence as instincts that from an evolutionary perspective can be explained as adaptation to the challenges that our distant ancestors were exposed to. From what I’ve said so far it could go both ways. It is fair to say that Chomskyan linguists do not care much for behavior genetics, and thus
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Part I: Linguistic Matters Chapter 4: The Generative Enterprise for genetic variation, believing, for no reasons that I’ve ever seen spelled out, that the genetic basis of the language organ is largely invariant. As for evolutionary aspects, we note that for a long time Chomsky was not inclined to consider the evolutionary development of the language organ, largely because we know nothing about the origin and development of human language on a time scale that is relevant for evolution. Strictly speaking, evidence for language does not extend any further back in time than the oldest record of writing, at best some 6,000 years old. Around this time, the human species with all its genes was well established, and little if any genetic change bearing on cognitive capacities has been claimed to have occurred since then.
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