The Primacy of Grammar
The contemporary discipline of biolinguistics is beginning to have the feel of scientific inquiry. Biolinguistics—especially the work of Noam Chomsky—suggests that the design of language may be "perfect": language is an optimal solution to conditions of sound and meaning. What is the scope of this inquiry? Which aspect of nature does this science investigate? What is its relation to the rest of science? What notions of language and mind are under investigation? This book is a study of such foundational questions. Exploring Chomsky's claims, Nirmalangshu Mukherji argues that the significance of biolinguistic inquiry extends beyond the domain of language.
Biolinguistics is primarily concerned with grammars that represent just the computational aspects of the mind/brain. This restriction to grammars, Mukherji argues, opens the possibility that the computational system of human language may be involved in each cognitive system that requires similar computational resources. Deploying analytical argumentation and empirical evidence, Mukherji suggests that a computational system of language consisting of very specific principles and operations is likely to be involved in each articulatory symbol system—such as music—that manifests unboundedness. In that sense, the biolinguistics approach may have identified, after thousands of years of inquiry, a specific structure of the human mind.
A Bradford Book
About the Author
Nirmalangshu Mukherji is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Delhi.
"It is a sign of maturity for any given field that a philosopher should reflect on its foundations. When the philosopher understands the field in its technical minutiae, it is a privilege, even a contribution. Moreover, given its approach and scope, a work like Mukherji's should reach a wide audience beyond linguistics, which is vital for the dissemination of the biolinguistics project that he elegantly introduces."
Juan Uriagereka, Department of Linguistics, University of Maryland
"This wide-ranging monograph provides a masterly and lucid overview of Chomsky's 'biolinguistics' enterprise and builds on it to offer a novel account of the nature of the human faculty of language. The core of that faculty is our tacit knowledge of grammar, the unique domain where the methodology of the hard sciences has been fruitfully applied to human cognition. In a tightly argued and challenging discussion, Mukherji goes on to suggest that there is a single computational system (essentially Chomsky's CHLthe computational system of human language) underlying all of language, music, mathematics and logic (the 'hominid set'). He defends this speculative thesis with insightful discussion of music, both Indian and Western, and ends with the striking suggestion that CHL is the unique computational system in nature. Mukherji's work is likely to trigger admiration and outrage in equal measure. It is an elegant achievement."
Neil Smith, Department of Linguistics, University College London