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
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.
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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