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The Architecture of Language

The Architecture of Language
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Item Code: NAQ394
Author: Noam Chomsky
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2000
ISBN: 9780195684469
Pages: 104
Other Details: 8.50 X 5.50 inch
weight of the book: 0.1 kg
About the Book

In this book Noam Chomsky reflects on the history of 'generative enterprise' -his approach to the study of languages that revolutionized our understanding of human languages and other cognitive systems. In his lively and engaging style, he presents advances in current grammatical theory called 'Minimalist Program', sketches some of the key issues that have characterized generative grammar in recent years, and charts out the agenda for future research in language theory.

Linguists interested in the internal history of generative linguistics will find this book insightful as also students and general readers who wish to gain an introductory knowledge of the discipline, its significance, and Chomsky's contribution.

About the Author

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor at the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.

'This little book will not disappoint those who have come to expect radical ideas from Chomsky ... '


Noam Chomsky is one of the most creative and widely published authors on language and mind. Apart from writing many books and papers, he has addressed, and continues to address, a vast range of audiences all over the world on these topics. A number of these lectures have been published in book-form.' None the less, we thought that another addition to this large, and growing catalogue was in order.

Chomsky was in India for about a week in January 1996. The visit started with a series of lectures in Delhi.' Of the five public lectures he delivered, only one concerned his work on language and mind." The event genera ted unprecedented enthusiasm in the academic community of Delhi. The lecture itself took about an hour and a half, and was followed by a very vigorous question- and-answer session covering a wide variety of topics. So many questions were submitted, and left unanswered, that Chomsky agreed to respond to these when he returned to MIT. A set of questions was compiled by the Department of Linguistics, Delhi University, and sent to Chomsky. He sent back detailed responses within a month.

We are told that a similar response is generated wherever Noam Chomsky speaks. However, this kind of popular, prolonged and intense intellectual debate is seldom seen in the Indian academic scene. Chomsky was visiting India after a gap of over twenty-five years and, given his busy schedule, there is no telling when-or indeed if-he will return. So the occasion itself, especially the vigorous participation of the audience, was well worth documenting. Moreover, after the event, many requests were received for copies of the recording and transcripts of the proceedings. Many eager enquirers to whom Chomsky generously replied from MIT were lost to the organizers once the audience had dispersed; and we felt a responsibility to at least attempt to reach them. Hence this book.

There is also a purely intellectual reason for publishing this volume. Chomsky was given the arduous task of tracing the entire historical chain of events, which began with his early research on language" and led up to the Minimalist Pro- gram (Chomsky 1995b). He was also requested to sketch some of the key technical innovations that have characterized generative grammar in recent years. Thus it was meant to be a general public lecture as well as a technical address to professional linguists.

Readers will judge for themselves how well this task has been accomplished by Chomsky. Yet the fact that this task was even attempted was astounding. We do not know of any recent, published material where he covered this much ground within the span of a single lecture. As far as we know, his published lectures-sometimes a series of them-usually cover either general and philosophical issues with a very informal discussion on his technical work," or they delve straight into a technical discussion after brief preliminary remarks of a general nature. In this lecture he covered both, and he did it not just to oblige the hosts, as the careful organization of the lecture shows. We feel that in this lecture he made an attempt to achieve a prolificacy that is fast becoming unattainable.

It often happens in the history of science that the general conceptual goals of a research programme are only marginally realized in the actual technical work. One may entertain a large body of philosophical, methodological, and commonsensical arguments to urge some conceptual points; but empirical research continues for a long time virtually unhindered by these arguments. Keeping to contemporary linguistics, one recalls that although the characterization of Universal Grammar as a genetic endowment was the stated goal of contemporary linguistics almost from its inception," for the most part empirical research had indeed very little to contribute simply because the design principles of Universal Grammar were largely unknown in their operating detail. As Chomsky notes in the lecture, the first major breakthrough took place with the principles and parameters framework in the early eighties, when the concept began to be realized in terms of concrete empirical research.

This inevitably forced a certain change in the style and content of Chomsky's subsequent presentations, including his writings. For example, in the book Knowledge of Language (1986)/ Chomsky devoted a much larger part (in fact, the major part) to fairly technical discussions which had animated linguistic research for years. The stage had arrived where general philosophical points could be probed in-depth with real and subtle empirical evidence and novel technical tools." Even then it was largely possible for the general reader to get a flavour of the discioline while ignoring the technical parts.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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