Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Footnote to "Why is there Something rather than Nothing..."

[An afterpiece to this.]

That parable, while having the virtue of being accessible to all, is fanciful, in that it does not reflect the actual recent history of zoology.  A historically more telling caricature would be:
=>  The Landscape Linguist, who should maintain:  All that business about constraints and a fixed small set of inbuilt parameters  was hocus-pocus.  Peoples need 2 B free!  Languages can indeed vary without limit in any dimension, as expressions of our unique individual personhood.  (Perhaps that is what was meant by that Tucson philosopher, who decried “government attempts to control grammar”.)  Why, in Solipseburg, just across the Mountains of Kaf, there is a tribe whose language has one trillion prepositions, no nouns, exactly one adjective which, depending on the phases of the moon, can mean a different thing at every instant, and verbs inflected, not for tense, but for color.   Unfortunately the idiolects of this language vary so greatly, that no-one understands anyone else; but each is perfectly content with her own Private Language.  In view of such variety, we see that the Generative enterprise was misconceived.

The later history of generative grammar may be illuminated by the following metaphor:  the generativists glimpsed the impending linguistic Multiverse whither unconstrained theories must lead:  shrank back, and took a methodological vow of Poverty.  Of late, this approach has been known as Minimalism;  later still, it may have no name.

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