Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor and Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus) at MIT and the author of many influential books on linguistics, including Aspects of the Theory of Syntax and The Minimalist Program, both published by the MIT Press.

  • Why Only Us

    Why Only Us

    Language and Evolution

    Robert C. Berwick and Noam Chomsky

    Berwick and Chomsky draw on recent developments in linguistic theory to offer an evolutionary account of language and humans' remarkable, species-specific ability to acquire it.

    “A loosely connected collection of four essays that will fascinate anyone interested in the extraordinary phenomenon of language.”— New York Review of Books

    We are born crying, but those cries signal the first stirring of language. Within a year or so, infants master the sound system of their language; a few years after that, they are engaging in conversations. This remarkable, species-specific ability to acquire any human language—“the language faculty”—raises important biological questions about language, including how it has evolved. This book by two distinguished scholars—a computer scientist and a linguist—addresses the enduring question of the evolution of language.

    Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky explain that until recently the evolutionary question could not be properly posed, because we did not have a clear idea of how to define “language” and therefore what it was that had evolved. But since the Minimalist Program, developed by Chomsky and others, we know the key ingredients of language and can put together an account of the evolution of human language and what distinguishes us from all other animals.

    Berwick and Chomsky discuss the biolinguistic perspective on language, which views language as a particular object of the biological world; the computational efficiency of language as a system of thought and understanding; the tension between Darwin's idea of gradual change and our contemporary understanding about evolutionary change and language; and evidence from nonhuman animals, in particular vocal learning in songbirds.

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  • Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, 50th Anniversary Edition

    Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, 50th Anniversary Edition

    Noam Chomsky

    The fiftieth anniversary edition of a landmark work in generative grammar that continues to be influential, with a new preface by the 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.

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  • The Minimalist Program, 20th Anniversary Edition

    The Minimalist Program, 20th Anniversary Edition

    Noam Chomsky

    A classic work that situates linguistic theory in the broader cognitive sciences, formulating and developing the minimalist program.

    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.

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  • The Minimalist Program

    The Minimalist Program

    Noam Chomsky

    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 Essays Principles and Parameters TheorySome Notes on Economy of Derivation and RepresentationA Minimalist Program for Linguistic TheoryCategories and Transformations in a Minimalist Framework

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  • The Sound Pattern of English

    The Sound Pattern of English

    Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle

    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.

    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.

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  • Language and Problems of Knowledge

    Language and Problems of Knowledge

    The Managua Lectures

    Noam Chomsky

    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.

    Language and Problems of Knowledge is sixteenth in the series Current Studies in Linguistics, edited by Jay Keyser.

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  • Barriers

    Barriers

    Noam Chomsky

    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.

    Barriers is Linguistic Inquiry Monograph 13.

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  • Some Concepts and Consequences of the Theory of Government and Binding

    Some Concepts and Consequences of the Theory of Government and Binding

    Noam Chomsky

    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.

    The book is the sixth in the series Linguistic Inquiry Monographs, edited by Samuel Jay Keyser.

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  • Aspects of the Theory of Syntax

    Aspects of the Theory of Syntax

    Noam Chomsky

    Chomsky proposes a reformulation of the theory of transformational generative grammar that takes recent developments in the descriptive analysis of particular languages into account.

    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.

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  • March 4, Anniversary Edition

    March 4, Anniversary Edition

    Scientists, Students, and Society

    Jonathan Allen

    Scientists debate the role of scientific research in the military-industrial complex and consider the complicity of academic science in American wars.

    On March 4, 1969, MIT faculty and students joined together for an extraordinary day of protest. Growing out of the MIT community's anguish over the Vietnam War and concern over the perceived complicity of academic science with the American war machine, the events of March 4 and the days following were a “positive protest”—a forum not only for addressing political and moral priorities but also for mapping out a course of action. Soon afterward, some of the participants founded the Union of Concerned Scientists. This book documents the March 4 protest with transcripts of talks and panel discussions. Speakers included Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Lionel Trilling, and Nobel Laureate George Wald, whose memorable speech, “A Generation in Search of a Future,” was widely circulated. Topics of discussion ranged from general considerations of the intellectuals' political responsibility to specific comments on the Vietnam War and nuclear disarmament.

    This fiftieth anniversary edition adds a foreword by Kurt Gottfried, a physicist, participant in the March 4 protest, and cofounder of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He writes, forcefully and hopefully, “Fifty years ago, a remarkable awakening was occurring among American scientists about their role in society. This volume offers a fascinating snapshot of that moment on March 4, 1969, and the activities and discussions collected here remain relevant and resonant today.” In an era when many politicians routinely devalue science, we can take inspiration from the March 4 protests.

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  • Language in Our Brain

    Language in Our Brain

    The Origins of a Uniquely Human Capacity

    Angela D. Friederici

    A comprehensive account of the neurobiological basis of language, arguing that species-specific brain differences may be at the root of the human capacity for language.

    Language makes us human. It is an intrinsic part of us, although we seldom think about it. Language is also an extremely complex entity with subcomponents responsible for its phonological, syntactic, and semantic aspects. In this landmark work, Angela Friederici offers a comprehensive account of these subcomponents and how they are integrated. Tracing the neurobiological basis of language across brain regions in humans and other primate species, she argues that species-specific brain differences may be at the root of the human capacity for language.

    Friederici shows which brain regions support the different language processes and, more important, how these brain regions are connected structurally and functionally to make language processes that take place in milliseconds possible. She finds that one particular brain structure (a white matter dorsal tract), connecting syntax-relevant brain regions, is present only in the mature human brain and only weakly present in other primate brains. Is this the “missing link” that explains humans' capacity for language?

    Friederici describes the basic language functions and their brain basis; the language networks connecting different language-related brain regions; the brain basis of language acquisition during early childhood and when learning a second language, proposing a neurocognitive model of the ontogeny of language; and the evolution of language and underlying neural constraints. She finds that it is the information exchange between the relevant brain regions, supported by the white matter tract, that is the crucial factor in both language development and evolution.

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  • 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.

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  • Birdsong, Speech, and Language

    Birdsong, Speech, and Language

    Exploring the Evolution of Mind and Brain

    Johan J. Bolhuis and Martin Everaert

    Prominent scholars consider the cognitive and neural similarities between birdsong and human speech and language.

    Scholars have long been captivated by the parallels between birdsong and human speech and language. In this book, leading scholars draw on the latest research to explore what birdsong can tell us about the biology of human speech and language and the consequences for evolutionary biology. After outlining the basic issues involved in the study of both language and evolution, the contributors compare birdsong and language in terms of acquisition, recursion, and core structural properties, and then examine the neurobiology of song and speech, genomic factors, and the emergence and evolution of language.

    Contributors Hermann Ackermann, Gabriël J.L. Beckers, Robert C. Berwick, Johan J. Bolhuis, Noam Chomsky, Frank Eisner, Martin Everaert, Michale S. Fee, Olga Fehér, Simon E. Fisher, W. Tecumseh Fitch, Jonathan B. Fritz, Sharon M.H. Gobes, Riny Huijbregts, Eric Jarvis, Robert Lachlan, Ann Law, Michael A. Long, Gary F. Marcus, Carolyn McGettigan, Daniel Mietchen, Richard Mooney, Sanne Moorman, Kazuo Okanoya, Christophe Pallier, Irene M. Pepperberg, Jonathan F. Prather, Franck Ramus, Eric Reuland, Constance Scharff, Sophie K. Scott, Neil Smith, Ofer Tchernichovski, Carel ten Cate, Christopher K. Thompson, Frank Wijnen, Moira Yip, Wolfram Ziegler, Willem Zuidema

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  • Foundational Issues in Linguistic Theory

    Foundational Issues in Linguistic Theory

    Essays in Honor of Jean-Roger Vergnaud

    Robert Freidin, Carlos P. Otero, and Maria Luisa Zubizarreta

    Essays by leading theoretical linguists—including Noam Chomsky, B. Elan Dresher, Richard Kayne, Howard Lasnik, Morris Halle, Norbert Hornstein, Henk van Riemsdijk, and Edwin Williams—reflect on Jean-Roger Vergnaud's influence in the field and discuss current theoretical issues

    Jean-Roger Vergnaud's work on the foundational issues in linguistics has proved influential over the past three decades. At MIT in 1974, Vergnaud (now holder of the Andrew W. Mellon Professorship in Humanities at the University of Southern California) made a proposal in his Ph.D. thesis that has since become, in somewhat modified form, the standard analysis for the derivation of relative clauses. Vergnaud later integrated the proposal within a broader theory of movement and abstract case. These topics have remained central to theoretical linguistics. In this volume, essays by leading theoretical linguists attest to the importance of Jean-Roger Vergnaud's contributions to linguistics. The essays first discuss issues in syntax, documenting important breakthroughs in the development of the principles and parameters framework and including a famous letter (unpublished until recently) from Vergnaud to Noam Chomsky and Howard Lasnik commenting on the first draft of their 1977 paper “Filters and Controls.” Vergnaud's writings on phonology (which, the editors write, “take a definite syntactic turn”) have also been influential, and the volume concludes with two contributions to that field. The essays, rewarding from both theoretical and empirical perspectives, not only offer insight into Vergnaud's impact on the field but also describe current work on the issues he introduced into the scholarly debate.

    Contributors Joseph Aoun, Elabbas Benmamoun, Cedric Boeckx, Noam Chomsky, B. Elan Dresher, Robert Freidin, Morris Halle, Norbert Hornstein, Richard S. Kayne, Samuel Jay Keyser, Howard Lasnik, Yen-hui Audrey Li, M. Rita Manzini, Karine Megerdoomian, David Michaels, Henk van Riemsdijk, Alain Rouveret, Leonardo M. Savoia, Jean-Roger Vergnaud, Edwin Williams

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  • WH-Movement

    WH-Movement

    Moving On

    Lisa Lai-Shen Cheng and Norbert Corver

    Wh-movement—the phenomenon by which interrogative words appear at the beginning of interrogative sentences—is one of the central displacement operations of human language. Noam Chomsky's 1977 paper "On Wh-Movement," a landmark in the study of wh-movement (and movement in general), showed that this computational operation is the basis of a variety of syntactic constructions that had previously been described in terms of construction-specific rules. Taking Chomsky's paper as a starting point, the contributors to this collection reconsider a number of the issues raised in "On Wh-Movement" from the perspective of contemporary Minimalist syntactic theory (which explores the thesis that human language is a system optimally designed to meet certain interface conditions imposed by other cognitive systems with which the language faculty interacts). They discuss such wh-movement issues as wh-phrases and pied-piping, the formation of A-bar chains and the copy theory of movement, cyclicity and locality of wh-movement, and the typology of wh-constructions. By reconsidering core characteristics of the wh-movement operation first systematically discussed by Chomsky from the Minimalist perspective, this volume contributes to the further development of the theory of wh-movement and to the general theory of movement.

    Contributors Brian Agbayani, Lisa Lai-Shen Cheng, Sandra Chung, Norbert Corver, Caterina Donati, Kleanthes K. Grohmann, Toru Ishii, Heejeong Ko, Howard Lasnik, Philip LeSourd, Chris H. Reintges, Luigi Rizzi, Balázs Surányi, Akira Watanabe, Henrietta Yang

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  • March 4

    Scientists, Students, and Society

    Jonathan Allen

    A movement of scientists and students concerned about the misuse of science and the proper relation between science and society, beginning to a large extent at M.I.T. and spreading rapidly to other campuses, emerged as a public force, “March 4.” Sponsored on the M.I.T. campus by the union of Concerned Scientists, this was a positive protest and the time was used in intensive examination of alternatives.

    It differed in other ways from many recent forms of protest. It was planned from the start as a joint effort between faculty and students. And the protestors – students and Nobel Laureates alike – set out to examine what could actually be done – done now or in reasonable time – by taking fully into account the reality and inertia that keep priorities out of balance in the present system.

    The text of this book consists of an essentially unedited transcription of the talks and panel discussions presented at March 4, thus preserving the intellectual flavor of the event, with its air of spontaneous groping toward mutual understanding among various groups of participants.

    The full text of George Wald's moving address, “A Generation is Search of a Future,” is included. This address, largely extemporaneous, has already had a far-reaching impact in published from through reprints and extracts distributed by several newspapers and magazines. Its influence will be extended now that it is available in the permanence of book form.

    Two other addresses are also available in the book: “Reconversion for What?” by Congressman George E. Brown, and “Protesting the Draft” by Father Mullanney.

    The remainder of the book reports the deliberations – the agreements and the disagreements – of five panels. These take up in turn a number of large but definable problem areas: the responsibility of intellectuals; reconversion and nonmilitary research opportunities; the academic community and government; Science Action Coordinating Committee proposals for further action; and the questions of arms control, disarmament, and national security. These panels were manned by some of the sharpest critics of national policy and some of the most thoughtful students of the American scene to be found today. Among others, including several students, Eugene Rabinowitch, Victor F. Weisskopf, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Salvador Luria, Francis Low, Thomas Schelling, Franz Schurmann, Bernard Feld, Hans Bethe (speaking on the ABM), and chemical weapons) served as members or chairmen of panels.

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