Getting the word out: The early generativists’ multipronged efforts to diffuse their ideas


This discussion note revolves around the early days of generative grammar, that is to say the late 1950s and the 1960s. A number of commentators have claimed that MIT linguists in this period formed an elitist in-group, talking only to each other by means of inaccessible ‘underground’ publications and thereby erecting a barrier between themselves and the outside world of linguistics. I attempt to refute such claims. We see that the early generativists used every means at their disposal at the time to diffuse their ideas: publishing single-authored books, journal articles, anthology chapters, and technical reports; aiding the writing of textbooks; giving conference talks; teaching at LSA (Linguistic Society of America) Institutes; and hosting numerous visitors to MIT. And in particular, there was no significant ‘underground’ literature to obstruct the acceptance of the new theory.