Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Alva Noe: The Unlimited Novelty Of Language?

This fact of linguistic creativity plays a pivotal role in an argument that, in Jackendoff's words, "serves as the foundational premise of modern linguistics." (He goes on to note that the argument is Chomsky's and that he's made it in myriad publications.) The argument in question goes roughly like this: the only way to explain our open-ended ability to cope with linguistic novelty is to suppose that "in our heads" there is a system of rules that governs the combination and recombination of words into well-formed sentences. To know a language is to have a "mental grammar." There is something ironic in the fact that Jackendoff explains linguistic creativity by repeating what Chomsky and others have written elsewhere in myriad publications. But is it even true? It is striking that Jackendoff doesn't offer anything more in defense of the claim about unlimited novelty than I have repeated here. Is this such a straight forward matter? Is it just self-evident that the examples of Jackendoff's wife and daughter demonstrate the existence of the linguistic creativity that plays such an important role in laying the foundations of linguistic theory? I am skeptical. more

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