Friday, January 11, 2008

Restriction to grammar, delinked from ‘language'

The Primacy of Grammar: Explorations in the Philosophy of Linguistics [Nearly done]
Biolinguistics has been able to maintain some distance from topics that are traditionally thought to be central to the study of language: meaning, concepts, truth-conditions, and communication. From the perspective of familiar notions of language, this could be viewed as a shortcoming of the biolinguistics programme. From the point of view of biolinguistics, however, it is just a fact. Against the current perhaps, I take the isolation of this rather austere object to be the central contribution of Noam Chomsky; its significance lies in its frugality. This is not to suggest that what currently falls under the non-grammatical aspects of language will never be a part of grammatical theory:
‘No one familiar with the field has any illusion today that the horizons of inquiry are even visible, let alone at hand, in any domain’ (Chomsky 2005).
As we will see, there are constant attempts to enlarge the scope of grammatical theory to incorporate other aspects of language and its use. But, as with matured sciences, the chances are that each such incorporation will be hard-fought, since it will have to be formulated, not due to pressures from ‘outside,’ but from within the evolving framework of biolinguistics. This restriction to grammar, so delinked from ‘language,’ opens the possibility that the computational system of human language maybe involved in each cognitive system that requires similar computational resources. A mixture of analytical argumentation, varieties of empirical (including introspective) evidence, and some speculation suggests a picture in which a computational system consisting of very specific principles and operations is likely to be centrally involved in each articulatory symbol system that manifests unboundedness.
In this restricted sense, the object of biolinguistics exemplifies the Cartesian picture of a united mind. In other words, the suggestion is that the following things converge:
(a) the scientific character of biolinguistics,
(b) its isolation from the rest of science and, thus, from the rest of human inquiry,
(c) its basic explanatory form, namely, the computational-representational framework, and
(d) the domains of its application.
From this perspective, the real gain of the biolinguistic approach to cognitive phenomena is that the approach may have identified, after thousands of years of inquiry, a specific structure of the human mind, perhaps a real joint of nature.

Nirmalangshu Mukherji
Professor, Department of Philosophy, Delhi University, Delhi 110007, India
e-mail: Telephone: +91-11-27666629 (Off), +91-11-27666253 (Res)

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