The UCLA Lectures
Noam Chomsky
October 2020

The lectures begin with the perennial question What is language? The first lecture develops a perspective on language as an internal object, a property of individuals. It reviews how the modern generative enterprise resolves some of the empirical and conceptual difficulties of earlier work and takes learnability and evolvability to be criteria for achieving genuine explanations of basic properties of linguistic phenomena. It ends with a critical review of the earliest technical proposals of the 1950s and 60s. The second lecture begins by extending the critical review to problems with X-bar theory, moving on to the Principles and Parameters framework, leading to the Strong Minimalist Thesis SMT and consideration of third factor principles like computational efficiency. Merge is proposed as the simplest computational operation, hence in accord with SMT. It unifies composition and dislocation, overcoming the longstanding assumption (mine as well) that dislocation is somehow a problematic property. On the contrary, barring it would be problematic – and in fact in computational terms it is the more parsimonious of the subcases of Merge. It follows that linear order and other surface arrangements are not part of core language that generates linguistic articulation of thought, but rather belong to the ancillary system of externalization to some sensorimotor system. It is, then, no surprise that in case of conflicts between communicative and computational efficiency, the former is disregarded. Furthermore, adherence to SMT provides a basis for genuine explanation of structure-dependence, a deep and quite surprising property of language with many consequences, also experimentally confirmed by evidence from language acquisition, neurolinguistics, and psycholinguistics. The third lecture examines some failures of previous formulations, starting with the failure of X-bar theories to accommodate exocentric constructions. This leads to a reformulation of Merge as MERGE, an operation defined on the workspace WS of already constructed objects to which subsequent operations apply, thus specifying the state of the system at a particular stage of generation. An important property of MERGE is that it is governed by a narrow limit on how it can enrich WS. This resource constraint, arguably based on “third factor” considerations, overcomes empirical and conceptual problems in the original formulation of Merge, which arise in a variety of extensions of Merge suggested in recent years. The lecture further explores the distinction between copies and repetitions, the former produced by MERGE. It also demonstrates how these principles yield a simple account of ATB deletion constructions, extending to the basic nature of parasitic gaps. The final lecture turns problems at the border of inquiry involving unbounded unstructured coordination, which require a notion of sequence and perhaps postulation of an asymmetric operation Pair-Merge in addition to symmetrical MERGE. It considers other phenomena that might involve Pair-Merge, including head movement. The final part of this lecture shifts from the operations of the computational system to its atomic elements. It distinguishes syntax from semantics, the former involving internal mental computations whereas the latter involves concepts of truth, reference and denotation that go beyond syntax by relating language to the mind-external world. Investigation of words that are used to refer provides evidence that human language does not have the concepts of reference and therefore no semantics in the technical sense. The marked contrast between human language and animal communication systems, where symbolic expressions appear to correlate directly with the external world, reveals a mystery about the origin of the basic elements that enter into generation of human languages and linguistically-articulated thought. With an introduction by Robert Freidin.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/005485
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: unpublished
keywords: generative enterprise, basic property of language, genuine explanation, i-language, hierarchical structure vs. linear order vs. projection, composition, dislocation, workspace, merge, resource restriction, copy vs. repetition, stability, duality of semantics, unbounded unstructured coordination, sequence, pair-merge, syntax vs. semantics, syntax
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