April 03, 2008

Chomskyan research paradigm is alive and well

Perspective, Language Evolution & Genes from Shared Symbolic Storage by Michael

As I wrote in my last post, according to Edmund Blair Bolles, evolang08 can be seen as an all-out attack on the Chomskian paradigm. Whereas Bolles’ thinks that the downfall of the Chomskian paradigm is near, I am more skeptical. Of course, many of the talks at evolang08 seem to have dealt severe blows to general conceptions of Chomskyan linguistics, but given that the field of language evolution studies was opposed to many of Chomsky’s ideas from the start, this seems a natural development.

So will the Chomskyan Paradigm simply go extinct in the sense of Kuhn’s (1962) “Structure of Scientific Revolutions”? Clearly in this field people like Juan Uriagereka are in the minority, and this speaks for the diminishing influence of some Chomskian ideas, especially ‘syntactocentrism’, i.e. the idea that "that it is 'as if syntax carved the path interpretation must blindly follow.'" (Chomsky 2007: 24) in general, but on the whole I think that the Chomskyan research paradigm is alive and well, speaking in terms of ‘believers’, as Derek Bickerton (2008) puts it, in the generative enterprise. EBB himself writes that:

“It is only the odd ones among them who are interested enough in the evolution of language to even think of attending such a conference, but the absence of all the leaders of the effort to understand the evolution of generative grammar—Steven Pinker, Marc Hauser, Tecumseh Fitch, Ray Jackendoff, and Paul Bloom — cannot be entirely a coincidence.”

An example of biologically informed research in linguistics – Biolinguistics – in the Chomskyan tradition is the open access journal with the same title which was inaugurated in 2007 and whose second issue appeared this week. The second issue features two very cool papers. The first, by Boban Arsenijević (2008), of whom I must admit I’d never heard before, is about how we got “From Spatial Cognition to Language.”

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