My linguistics posts the past few weeks have dealt with linguistics in very general terms. The purpose of the Mathematics and linguistics posts has been to outline a specific mode of inquiry within theoretical linguistics: the examination of the mathematical properties of a proposed theory. This mode of inquiry is fairly agnostic about specific theoretical details, and is very much in line with Pierce’s contention that mathematics is “the judge over both [induction and hypothesis], and it is the arbiter to which each must refer its claims” (1881, p. 97). Before we can proceed, however, we need to look at some actual linguistic theory. As with any active branch of scientific inquiry, there are multiple theories that researchers are actively pursuing. At least for the time being, I’m going to focus on generative grammar.
Generative grammar is not a single theory, but rather a family of theories that share a number of common assumptions. Historically, there are three main periods in the development of generative grammar. The first of these saw the development of theories of transformational grammar, the second introduced the principles and parameters framework, and the most recent period focuses on minimalist grammars. The intellectual roots of generative grammar go back further, drawing on mathematical logic and adopting Post’s (1943) notion of productions. Since at least the mid-1970s, there has been a growing trend to consider generative grammar within a biolinguistic context. My goal for the next few linguistics posts is to look at this historical development in more detail, and identify some of the common assumptions that are made in generative theories of language.
Copyright © 2008 Michael L. McCliment.