Philosophical Foundations of Language Study
G61.1710-001 31208


Prof. Ray C. Dougherty
New York University | Linguistics Department

This course description is available in postscript and in zipped postscript.

HELP || LING || COURSES || Basics | Overview | Syllabus | Project | Students

Preliminary Version
Final Version Will be Given Out In Class

  1. Chomsky on Goals, Methods, Theory, and Data, Introductory Lecture
  2. I. Concepts of Explanation: Internal and External
  3. II. Leading Ideas Regarding Explanation and Description
  4. III. Explanation in the Minimalist Program
  5. IV. Arguments For and Against the Minimalist Program
  6. The Evolution of "Explanation in Linguistics", Concluding Lecture

(RES) means the article in on reserve in Bobst and at 719 Broadway, fifth floor. (HARD) means this article is difficult and is for reference.

1. Chomsky and C.S. Peirce on goals, methods, theory, and data
In this course we will ask: 'What would Charles Sanders Peirce have said about developments in Linguistics since 1957 and about the current state of the art in generative studies?' A grammar defines a set of sentences/structures. A grammar defines the sound-meaning pairs of a language.

I. Concepts of Explanation: Internal and External

The classroom discussion will focus on the material in Chomsky's 'Cartesian Linguistics'.
Focus on why language acquisition models play a role in explanation.

2. Cartesian Linguistics: Cognitive psychology and 'innate ideas'
Three basic ideas of Cartesian Linguistics: (a) language acquisition and learning, (b) Infinite use of finite means, or recursion, and (c) abstract structure, such as deep structure, D-structure, empty categories, traces, and so on. For recursion we will discuss: coordination, subordination, and adjuncts. We mention selection, cooccurrence, and so on.

3. Explanation, language acquisition, and learnability
What is the role of 'mental organs' and so on in explanation and description? Is all 'explanation' tied to the language acquisition device and learnability considerations? Should one study a single particular language in depth, contrast radically different languages, contrast close dialects, or study many languages in a comparative way? What is a 'toy grammar'? Is such a concept relevant in Chomsky's research program? Why not?

4. Language acquisition, Plato's problem, and 'displacements'
We will discuss 'displacements': unbounded, like wh- questions and relatives; and bounded, like passive, seem, there is, easy, particle constructions, clitics, and believe-type verbs. Which are worse (i.e. harder to describe/explain) bounded or unbounded?

II. Leading Ideas Regarding Explanation and Description

The classroom discussion will focus on the material in Lisa Cheng's 'On the Typology of Wh-Questions.'
Read the dissertation. Focus on morphological correlates of wh- displacements.

5. C.S. Peirce on scientific theories
failibility, design of experiments, crucial/neutral examples, strength of arguments. The Peirce materials are available over the WWW.

6. Cheng's typology of wh-questions
What are the 'natural classes' of phenomena in Cheng's system? What is a wh-question? What types of 'displacement' or 'movement' can occur? Why is there 'displacement' at all?

7. C.S. Peirce on the strength of arguments
Arguments can be rated for strength, and the scale relates to 'learnability' and language acquisition. What is a 'leading idea'?

III. Explanation in the Minimalist Program

The classroom discussion will focus on the material in Chomsky's 'The Minimalist Program.'
We will focus on Exceptional Case Marking vebs, Wh- displacements, and Strong Features.

8. All 'movement' or 'displacement' is morphologically driven
Constituents move in the old view, or features are attracted in the new view for a 'morphological' reason. The movement/attraction is 'driven' by a 'greed' felt by the constituent or features to be licensed by pairing/mating or matching features on a higher, often abstract, node. We discuss greed for features of case, person, number, gender, tense, and so on using formatives like 'seem,' 'be + en,' 'easy,' and so on. But what morphological property drives movement or attraction in a verb like 'believe'? We will argue that 'believe' raising is a major exception to the morphologically driven movement assumption.

9. Agreement, abstract heads, morphology, and 'strong' features
Problems in the theory of questions and relatives. (a) wh- movement is a consequence of a 'strong' feature on the comp node. We analyze Chomsky's discussion of this strong feature. (b) strings like 'the cover of which book' suggest that the grammar must replace 'constituent movement' with 'feature attraction' as a basic process in syntax and semantics. We discuss 'reconstruction.'

10. The leading ideas of 'explanation' in the minimalist program
Several people have excellent introductory discussions of the Minimallist Program. Halle and Marantz discuss the morphological aspects of movement. Marantz gives a brief discussion with some examples of derivations.

IV. Arguments For and Against the Minimalist Program

The classroom discussion will focus on the material in Johnson and Lappin's 'A Critique of the Minimalist Program.'

11. Johnson and Lappin on the Minimalist Program
We outline the main arguments of Johnson and Lappin and discuss their bearing on Chomsky's proposals.

12. Explanation and description in the system of Johnson and Lappin
We examine the explanatory power of the Johnson and Lappin system in terms of theory internal explanation and theory external explanation.

13. Chomsky's view of the major conceptual shifts in Linguistics
We discuss (a) I- versus E-language, (b) principles and parameters theories, (c) the elimination of phrase structure rules, (d) the abandonment of 'constructions', (e) the concept of 'attract features' versus 'move constituent'.

14. The evolution of "Explanation in Linguistics"