- Linguistic minimalism: Origins, concepts, methods, and aims
The minimalist program (MP)/minimalism is a research program being pursued under the biolinguistic perspective in modern generative grammar, and this book is an excellent introduction to the MP written by one of its most active—and also most committed—practitioners, Cedric Boeckx.
B argues that the MP is a natural outgrowth of generative biolinguistics, whose foundations and basic goals were laid out rather clearly in Chomsky 1965 (Ch. 1 in particular), and whose [End Page 395] empirical basis has been firmly established through the years of the first phase of the so-called principles-and-parameters (P&P) approach (the government-binding (GB) era, as some call it). There can be little doubt about the empirical success of the P&P approach. It was this framework that led to an enormous explosion of work in every subfield of linguistics, on a wide range of typologically different languages of various types in very much greater depth than ever before. Thanks to the P&P approach, the field has simply exploded in scale. B claims that ‘[t]he [MP] grew out of the perceived success of the P&P approach. It took the [P&P] shape of the language faculty for granted, and asked how much of this shape could be the direct result of optimal, computationally efficient design’ (3–4). Thus, to gain a reasonable and well-balanced understanding of the MP, one needs to know the basic goals of modern generative grammar, its development leading to the P&P approach, the basic architecture of the P&P model of universal grammar, and the nature of optimality, elegance, economy, and other similar notions to be employed not only in linguistics but also in other sciences as well. The book is indeed organized in such a way that the reader will gain sufficient understanding of these points.
This book consists of six chapters, along with a convenient glossary of technical terms, references, and an index. Ch. 1, ‘The minimalist gamble’, gives a useful overview of the issues to be discussed, as well as a summary of each chapter of the book. B also explains the reasons why he decided to write the book. He does not intend the book to be a defense of the MP against its critics, nor does he want to convince anyone that the MP is the one and only correct scientific way of studying human language and mind. Rather, B wants to show that the MP has unique and distinct insights to offer regarding not only the study of language and the mind, but also the study of the biological world in general, and that given its programmatic nature, the MP invites everyone to participate in the enterprise as an innovative scientist.
Ch. 2, ‘The minimalist roots’, is a succinct presentation of the basic goals of generative grammar and its development leading to the P&P model of grammar. B identifies Noam Chomsky’s 1959 review of B. F. Skinner’s book Verbal behavior (along with Chomsky 1965 and Lenneberg 1967 ) as a landmark work indicating the birth of the (cognitive, and ultimately) biological perspective in the study of language and the mind. Then, with a brief discussion on the levels of adequacy, B goes on to take up the issue of the poverty of stimulus with respect to language acquisition, and concludes that there needs to be a biological, human-specific mechanism for language acquisition, a ‘mental organ’ that is responsible for acquiring a human language (the faculty of language). Since organs of the mind (the faculty of language, in particular) are arguably best understood in computational terms, B argues, modern generative grammar, from its earliest stages, has focused on developing rule systems with the appropriate combinatorial/ computational properties. The early results on the limitations of finite-state/regular grammars and phrase structure grammars for the descriptions of human language are pointed out, and the need for grammatical transformations is briefly discussed.1 Later developments, which occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, are...