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Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor and Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus) at MIT and the author of many influential books on linguistics.

Titles by This Author

Noam Chomsky’s Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, published in 1965, was a landmark work in generative grammar that introduced certain technical innovations still drawn upon in contemporary work. The fiftieth anniversary edition of this influential book includes a new preface by the author that identifies proposals that seem to be of lasting significance, reviews changes and improvements in the formulation and implementation of basic ideas, and addresses some of the controversies that arose over the general framework.

Beginning in the mid-fifties and emanating largely from MIT, linguists developed an approach to linguistic theory and to the study of the structure of particular languages that diverged in many respects from conventional modern linguistics. Although the new approach was connected to the traditional study of languages, it differed enough in its specific conclusions about the structure of language to warrant a name, “generative grammar.” Various deficiencies were discovered in the first attempts to formulate a theory of transformational generative grammar and in the descriptive analysis of particular languages that motivated these formulations. At the same time, it became apparent that these formulations can be extended and deepened. In this book, Chomsky reviews these developments and proposes a reformulation of the theory of transformational generative grammar that takes them into account. The emphasis in this study is syntax; semantic and phonological aspects of the language structure are discussed only insofar as they bear on syntactic theory.

In his foundational book, The Minimalist Program, published in 1995, Noam Chomsky offered a significant contribution to the generative tradition in linguistics. This twentieth-anniversary edition reissues this classic work with a new preface by the author.
In four essays, Chomsky attempts to situate linguistic theory in the broader cognitive sciences, with the essays formulating and progressively developing the minimalist approach to linguistic theory. Building on the theory of principles and parameters and, in particular, on principles of economy of derivation and representation, the minimalist framework takes Universal Grammar as providing a unique computational system, with derivations driven by morphological properties, to which the syntactic variation of languages is also restricted. Within this theoretical framework, linguistic expressions are generated by optimally efficient derivations that must satisfy the conditions that hold on interface levels, the only levels of linguistic representation. The interface levels provide instructions to two types of performance systems, articulatory-perceptual and conceptual-intentional. All syntactic conditions, then, express properties of these interface levels, reflecting the interpretive requirements of language and keeping to very restricted conceptual resources.

In the preface to this edition, Chomsky emphasizes that the minimalist approach developed in the book and in subsequent work “is a program, not a theory.” With this book, Chomsky built on pursuits from the earliest days of generative grammar to formulate a new research program that had far-reaching implications for the field.

The Minimalist Program consists of four recent essays that attempt to situate linguistic theory in the broader cognitive sciences. In these essays the minimalist approach to linguistic theory is formulated and progressively developed. Building on the theory of principles and parameters and, in particular, on principles of economy of derivation and representation, the minimalist framework takes Universal Grammar as providing a unique computational system, with derivations driven by morphological properties, to which the syntactic variation of languages is also restricted. Within this theoretical framework, linguistic expressions are generated by optimally efficient derivations that must satisfy the conditions that hold on interface levels, the only levels of linguistic representation. The interface levels provide instructions to two types of performance systems, articulatory-perceptual and conceptual-intentional. All syntactic conditions, then, express properties of these interface levels, reflecting the interpretive requirements of language and keeping to very restricted conceptual resources.The EssaysPrinciples and Parameters Theory.Some Notes on Economy of Derivation and Representation.A Minimalist Program for Linguistic Theory.Categories and Transformations in a Minimalist Framework.

Since this classic work in phonology was published in 1968, there has been no other book that gives as broad a view of the subject, combining generally applicable theoretical contributions with analysis of the details of a single language. The theoretical issues raised in The Sound Pattern of English continue to be critical to current phonology, and in many instances the solutions proposed by Chomsky and Halle have yet to be improved upon.

The Managua Lectures

Language and Problems of Knowledge is Noam Chomsky's most accessible statement on the nature, origins, and current concerns of the field of linguistics. He frames the lectures with four fundamental questions: What do we know when we are able to speak and understand a language? How is this knowledge acquired? How do we use this knowledge? What are the physical mechanisms involved in the representation, acquisition, and use of this knowledge?

Starting from basic concepts, Chomsky sketches the present state of our answers to these questions and offers prospects for future research. Much of the discussion revolves around our understanding of basic human nature (that we are unique in being able to produce a rich, highly articulated, and complex language on the basis of quite rudimentary data), and it is here that Chomsky's ideas on language relate to his ideas on politics.

The initial versions of these lectures were given at the Universidad Centroamericana in Managua, Nicaragua, in March 1986. A parallel set of lectures on contemporary political issues given at the same time has been published by South End Press under the title On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT. Language and Problems of Knowledge is sixteenth in the series Current Studies in Linguistics, edited by Jay Keyser.

This monograph explores several complex questions concerning the theories of government and bounding, including, in particular, the possibility of a unified approach to these topics. Starting with the intuitive idea that certain categories in certain configurations are barriers to government and movement, it considers whether the same categories are barriers in the two instances or whether one barrier suffices to block government (a stricter and "more local" relation) while more than one barrier inhibits movement, perhaps in a graded manner.

Any proposal concerning the formulation of the concept of government has intricate consequences, and many of the empirical phenomena that appear to be relevant are still poorly understood. Similarly, judgments about the theory of movement also involve a number of different factors, including sensitivity to lexical choice. Therefore, Chomsky proceeds on the basis of speculations as to the proper idealization of complex phenomena - how they should be sorted into a variety of interacting systems (some of which remain quite obscure), which may tentatively be put aside to be explained by independent (sometimes unknown) factors, and which may be considered relevant to the subsystems under investigation.

Barriers considers several possible paths through the maze of possibilities that arise. It sets the subtheory context (x-bar theory, theory of movement, and government) for determining what constitutes a barrier and explores two concepts of barrier - maximal projection and the minimality condition - and their manifestations in and implications for proper government, subjacency, island violations, vacuous movement, parasitic gaps, and A-chains.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy, MIT. Barriers is Linguistic Inquiry Monograph 13.

Noam Chomsky, more than any other researcher, has radically restructured the study of human language over the past several decades. While the study of government and binding is an outgrowth of Chomsky's earlier work in transformational grammar, it represents a significant shift in focus and a new direction of investigation into the fundamentals of linguistic theory.

This monograph consolidates and extends this new approach. It serves as a concise introduction to government-binding theory, applies it to several new domains of empirical data, and proposes some revisions to the principles of the theory that lead to greater unification, descriptive scope, and explanatory depth.

Earlier work in the theory of grammar was concerned primarily with rule systems. The accent in government-binding theory, however, is on systems of principles of universal grammar. In the course of this book, Chomsky proposes and evaluates various general principles that limit and constrain the types of rules that are possible, and the ways they interact and function. In particular, he proposes that rule systems are in fact highly restricted in variety: only a finite number of grammars are attainable in principle, and these fall into a limited set of types.

Another consequence of this shift in focus is the change of emphasis from derivations to representations. The major topic in the study of syntactic representations is the analysis of empty categories, which is a central theme of the book. After his introductory comments and a chapter on the variety of rule system, Chomsky takes up, in turn, the general properties of empty categories, the functional determination of empty categories, parasitic gaps, and binding theory and the typology of empty categories.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor at MIT. The book is the sixth in the series Linguistic Inquiry Monographs, edited by Samuel Jay Keyser.

Beginning in the mid-fifties and emanating largely form MIT, an approach was developed to linguistic theory and to the study of the structure of particular languages that diverges in many respects from modern linguistics. Although this approach is connected to the traditional study of languages, it differs enough in its specific conclusions about the structure and in its specific conclusions about the structure of language to warrant a name, "generative grammar." Various deficiencies have been discovered in the first attempts to formulate a theory of transformational generative grammar and in the descriptive analysis of particular languages that motivated these formulations. At the same time, it has become apparent that these formulations can be extended and deepened. The major purpose of this book is to review these developments and to propose a reformulation of the theory of transformational generative grammar that takes them into account. The emphasis in this study is syntax; semantic and phonological aspects of the language structure are discussed only insofar as they bear on syntactic theory.