New Books in Language

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Peter Ludlow, “The Philosophy of Generative Linguistics” (Oxford UP, 2011)

The human capacity for language is always cited as the or one of the cognitive capacities we have that separates us from non-human animals. And linguistics, at its most basic level, is the study of language as such – in the primary and usual case, how we manage the pairing of sounds with meanings to make such a thing as speech even possible. The standard view in linguistics today, introduced by Noam Chomsky in the 1950s, is that language is a biologically based cognitive capacity that develops in specific ways in all humans given the appropriate (usually acoustic) inputs. The end result is someone who speaks a natural language – such as English –and has reliable intuitions about what can and cannot correctly be said in that natural language.

Peter Ludlow, John Evans Professor of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy at Northwestern University, examines a variety of controversial themes related to this model in his new book, The Philosophy of Generative Linguistics (Oxford University Press, 2011). What is the nature of this universal capacity for language, and how is it related to the natural languages that we come to speak? What sort of evidence can intuitions about what we can and can’t say provide about the underlying rules for generating meaningful sounds, especially when we have no conscious access to them? Does it make sense to think that this grammar provides normative guidance for our linguistic behavior when we don’t know what it is? Ludlow suggests provocative answers to these questions and more in this ground-breaking book.

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 November 15, 2011  1h6m