Rules and representations

Rules and representations. By Noam Chomsky. Foreword by Norbert Hornstein. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. Pp iii, 299. ISBN 0231132719. $25.

Reviewed by Sharbani Banerji, Ghaziabad, India

Rules and representations initiates the principles-and-parameters approach in the real sense. First published in 1980, the first four chapters of Part 1 are based on Chomsky’s 1978 Woodbridge lectures. The chapters in Part 2 are based on two lectures delivered in 1976. This edition begins with a foreword by Norbert Hornstein extensively discussing how Chomsky’s impact in linguistics, philosophy, and psychology has changed the way we think about language.

Chomsky postulates, and proves through numerous arguments, that the study of language is part of human biology, that the mind should be conceived of as modular in structure, a system of mental organs, of which the language faculty is one. The grammar represented in the mind is a real object, which grows in our mind. There is a genetically determined initial state, the universal grammar, that allows for several possible realizations. Each such possible realization is a possible final steady state, the grammar of a specific language.

In the foreword, ‘Chomsky’s natural philosophy’ (vii–xlix), Norbert Hornstein claims that Chomsky’s central conceptual contribution has three interrelated parts. First, we must shift from the study of (linguistic) behavior to the study of the structures and etiologies of mental/brain states. Second, we must adopt the abstractions and idealizations characteristic of the Galilean approach in the physical sciences to the study of mental sciences, too—in particular, to the study of language. Third, Chomsky has demonstrated how to actually do it, by developing research tools and strategies. The most important of these is the well-known ‘poverty of stimulus argument’.

Ch. 1, ‘Mind and body’ (346), argues that the number faculty, the language faculty, and others are ‘mental organs’, analogous to the visual system, and so on. In Ch. 2, ‘Structures, capacities, and conventions’ (4787), Chomsky gives clinical evidence to prove that to ‘know a language’ is to be in a certain mental state, composed of structures of rules and principles. Ch. 3, ‘Knowledge of grammar’ (89140), argues that the ‘knowledge of grammar’ is tacit. In this context, it is demonstrated that the properties of a wide-scope quantifier like any must be expressed in logical form (LF).

Ch. 4, ‘Some elements of grammar’ (14181) gives substantial syntactic, semantic, and even phonetic evidence to prove that the mental representation at the level of the S-structure includes trace [NP e], a bound variable with no phonetic content. The reality of trace argues against a variable-free notation of logic. It is also shown that the rule of focus is part of the mapping from S-structure to LF, and that LF provides representation relevant to pragmatic presupposition as against logical presupposition. It is proved that LF is governed by the principle of opacity. Ch. 5, ‘On the biological basis of language capacities’ (185216), argues that the evidence provided for the apparatus of the language faculty, for example, the ‘locality principle’, is analogous to that of the physicist postulating certain processes in the interior of the sun, based on the evidence provided by the light emitted at the periphery. Ch. 6, ‘Language and unconscious knowledge’ (21754), argues that the theories of grammatical and pragmatic competence must find their place in a theory of performance. Such a rationalist approach contrasts with other learning models.