Andrea Moro

Andrea Moro is Professor of General Linguistics at the Institute for Advanced Study (IUSS) in Pavia, Italy. He is the author of Dynamic Antisymmetry, Impossible Languages, and The Boundaries of Babel (all published by the MIT Press), and other books, including The Raising of Predicates and I Speak, Therefore I Am.

  • A Brief History of the Verb To Be

    A Brief History of the Verb To Be

    Andrea Moro

    A journey through linguistic time and space, from Aristotle through the twentieth century's “era of syntax,” in search of a dangerous verb and its significance.

    Beginning with the early works of Aristotle, the interpretation of the verb to be runs through Western linguistic thought like Ariadne's thread. As it unravels, it becomes intertwined with philosophy, metaphysics, logic, and even with mathematics—so much so that Bertrand Russell showed no hesitation in proclaiming that the verb to be was a disgrace to the human race.

    With the conviction that this verb penetrates modern linguistic thinking, creating scandal in its wake and, like a Trojan horse of linguistics, introducing disruptive elements that lead us to rethink radically the most basic structure of human language—the sentence—Andrea Moro reconstructs this history. From classical Greece to the dueling masters of medieval logic through the revolutionary geniuses from the seventeenth century to the Enlightenment, and finally to the twentieth century—when linguistics became a driving force and model for neuroscience—the plot unfolds like a detective story, culminating in the discovery of a formula that solves the problem even as it raises new questions—about language, evolution, and the nature and structure of the human mind. While Moro never resorts to easy shortcuts, A Brief History of the Verb To Be isn't burdened with inaccessible formulas and always refers to the broader picture of mind and language. In this way it serves as an engaging introduction to a new field of cutting-edge research.

    • Hardcover $40.00 £30.00
  • Impossible Languages

    Impossible Languages

    Andrea Moro

    An investigation into the possibility of impossible languages, searching for the indelible “fingerprint” of human language.

    Can there be such a thing as an impossible human language? A biologist could describe an impossible animal as one that goes against the physical laws of nature (entropy, for example, or gravity). Are there any such laws that constrain languages? In this book, Andrea Moro—a distinguished linguist and neuroscientist—investigates the possibility of impossible languages, searching, as he does so, for the indelible “fingerprint” of human language.

    Moro shows how the very notion of impossible languages has helped shape research on the ultimate aim of linguistics: to define the class of possible human languages. He takes us beyond the boundaries of Babel, to the set of properties that, despite appearances, all languages share, and explores the sources of that order, drawing on scientific experiments he himself helped design. Moro compares syntax to the reverse side of a tapestry revealing a hidden and apparently intricate structure. He describes the brain as a sieve, considers the reality of (linguistic) trees, and listens for the sound of thought by recording electrical activity in the brain. Words and sentences, he tells us, are like symphonies and constellations: they have no content of their own; they exist because we listen to them and look at them. We are part of the data.

    • Hardcover $21.95 £16.99
  • The Boundaries of Babel, Second Edition

    The Boundaries of Babel, Second Edition

    The Brain and the Enigma of Impossible Languages

    Andrea Moro

    The new edition of a pioneering book that examines research at the intersection of contemporary theoretical linguistics and the cognitive neurosciences.

    In The Boundaries of Babel, Andrea Moro describes an encounter between two cultures: contemporary theoretical linguistics and the cognitive neurosciences. As a leading theoretical linguist in the generative tradition and also a neuroscientist, Moro is uniquely equipped to tell this story.

    Moro examines what he calls the “hidden” revolution in contemporary science: the discovery that the number of possible grammars is not infinite and that their number is biologically limited. This will require us to rethink not just the fundamentals of linguistics and neurosciences but also our view of the human mind. Moro searches for neurobiological correlates of “the boundaries of Babel”—the constraints on the apparent chaotic variation in human languages—by using an original experimental design based on artificial languages exploiting neuroimaging techniques.

    This second edition includes a new chapter in which Moro extends the exploration of the boundaries of Babel in search of the source of order with which all human languages are endowed. Reflecting on the emerging methodology that obtains physiological data from awake brain surgery, Moro shifts from considering where the neurophysiological processes underlying linguistic competence take place—that is, where neurons are activated—to considering the neuronal code involved in these processes—that is, what neurons communicate to each other. This edition also features a substantive new foreword by Noam Chomsky synthesizing the major issues theoretical syntax will face in the near future.

    • Paperback $32.00 £25.00
  • The Boundaries of Babel

    The Boundaries of Babel

    The Brain and the Enigma of Impossible Languages

    Andrea Moro

    An exploration of what research at the intersection of contemporary theoretical linguistics and the cognitive neurosciences can reveal about the constraints on the apparently chaotic variation in human languages.

    In The Boundaries of Babel, Andrea Moro tells the story of an encounter between two cultures: contemporary theoretical linguistics and the cognitive neurosciences. The study of language within a biological context has been ongoing for more than fifty years. The development of neuroimaging technology offers new opportunities to enrich the "biolinguistic perspective" and extend it beyond an abstract framework for inquiry. As a leading theoretical linguist in the generative tradition and also a cognitive scientist schooled in the new imaging technology, Moro is uniquely equipped to explore this.

    Moro examines what he calls the "hidden" revolution in contemporary science: the discovery that the number of possible grammars is not infinite and that their number is biologically limited. This radical but little-discussed change in the way we look at language, he claims, will require us to rethink not just the fundamentals of linguistics and neurosciences but also our view of the human mind. Moro searches for neurobiological correlates of "the boundaries of Babel"—the constraints on the apparent chaotic variation in human languages—by using an original experimental design based on artificial languages. He offers a critical overview of some of the fundamental results from linguistics over the last fifty years, in particular regarding syntax, then uses these essential aspects of language to examine two neuroimaging experiments in which he took part. He describes the two neuroimaging techniques used (positron emission topography, or PET, and functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI), but makes it clear that techniques and machines do not provide interesting data without a sound theoretical framework. Finally, he discusses some speculative aspects of modern research in biolinguistics regarding the impact of the linear structure of linguistics expression on grammar, and more generally, some core aspects of language acquisition, genetics, and evolution.

    • Hardcover $19.75 £14.99
    • Paperback $9.75 £7.99
  • Dynamic Antisymmetry

    Dynamic Antisymmetry

    Andrea Moro

    The central idea of Dynamic Antisymmetry is that movement and phrase structure are not independent properties of grammar; more specifically, that movement is triggered by the geometry of phrase structure. Assuming a minimalist framework, movement is traced back to the necessity for natural language to organize words in linear order at the interface with the perceptual-articulatory module. Andrea Moro uses this innovative perspective to analyze several empirical domains, focusing on small clauses, split wh-movement, and clitic constructions. In a final speculative chapter, he examines the general consequences for the design of grammar implied by Dynamic Antisymmetry. The book is self-contained, with a synopsis of current theories of movement and a synthetic presentation of the theory of antisymmetry. An appendix presents the essentials of a unified theory of copular sentences, which plays a central role in the argument and has several important consequences for syntax, for example, for expletives and locality. Linguistic Inquiry Monograph No. 38

    • Hardcover $50.00
    • Paperback $5.75 £4.99