Lectures on Government and Binding
Noam Chomsky, 1981

Universal Grammar and Core Grammar
Chomsky is a comfirmed, unrepentant idealist. He insists on being interested only in the idealized, abstract concepts of a universal grammar (the innate part formed by DNA) and idealized core grammars (native languages as learned during childhood). Both of these are clearly abstractions, as abstract as Jackendoff's concept of
Beethoven's Fifth symphony . Whatever is innate is clearly subject to genetic diversity. Otherwise, evolution could not have created it (unless one believes that the language system has reached such a state of perfection that it no longer evolves). Chomsky states his position that "borrowing, historical residues, inventions, and so on" are to be disregarded and that they are not part of the core grammar. But lexical variants are expected to vary from one individual to the next anyway and, if these "borrowings, etc." cause the speaker to construct a "non-standard" syntax, then they should be examined with great intensity and devotion. Only in the latter case could such variants be considered as outside of the native language. But, given genetic diversity in the innate mechanisms, what sense does it make to ask whether an individual syntactic variant applies to one language or another?

Writing Style
Chomsky clearly has a larger buffer than I do for holding a number of independent, self-contained, hypothetical, conceptual systems. His "microworlds" can be deeply nested and he can easily switch back and forth among them, comparing implications and postulating interrelationships between them (creating new worlds as he goes).

It usually takes many readings before I know what he has in mind. My usual response to this is to toss down the book in anger and frustration.


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