The Linguist

The Linguist 52,2

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SECTION REVIEWS HEADER The Science of Language: Interviews with James McGilvray Noam Chomsky Cambridge University Press, 2012, 321 pp; ISBN 9781107016378, Hardback, £50; ISBN 978-1107602403, Paperback, £15.99 After a short introduction, there are 140 pages of interviews, mainly from 2004, in which McGilvray prompts Chomsky to elaborate on questions concerning the nature and evolution of language; the philosophies of language and mind, morality and universality; and the relationship between science and common sense. The 14 chapters in Part I, 'The Science of Language and Mind', cover topics such as canalisation in language acquisition, universal grammar (UG) and simplicity. The scope of the 11 chapters in Part II, 'Human Nature and its Study', extends to language and agency, sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. Chomsky can be heavy going, but the conversational style helps to make his ideas accessible, as does the recurrence of key ideas – notably the proposal that language, rather than being the outcome of a lengthy evolutionary process, emerged as a result of a sudden 'great leap forward' in which a genetic mutation endowed a single individual with the basic combinatory mechanism called 'Merge'. Merge is 'an operation that enables you to take mental objects, already constructed, and make bigger mental objects out of them'. It Vol/52 No/2 2013 provides the basis for the ability to think, plan, imagine, interpret and construct natural sciences. Having a selectional advantage, it soon dominated the breeding group. Language is an 'externalisation' in which the group exploited available sensory-motor capacities to communicate with each other. Language is thus not designed for communication; we 'get by with it' although the externalisation is 'a mess'. What is internal is probably simple; in fact, Merge is 'possibly the sole component of UG'. Chomsky remains committed to abstracting away from data and investigating not language in use, but language as a natural object that allows for use. He believes his increasingly minimal conception of UG is a route to making linguistics a science: biolinguistics. The interviews are followed by 12 appendices totalling 100 pages, in which McGilvray elucidates key concepts in Chomsky's thinking; 30 pages of commentaries on specific points in the interviews; and a glossary of some 40 key terms. If you're unfamiliar with Chomsky's work, this book is not the place to start. But if, like me, you tried to follow the trail he blazed in the 1960s and 1970s, it will give you a glimpse of how far he's travelled since then. Jonathan Marks MCIL Crossword puzzle no.5 Across 1. Portmanteau word for a French public conveyance. (7) 5. Douglas, inventor of the Babelfish. (5) 8. A kind of cotton cloth, taken from Malay. (7) 9. Debussy melody, sung by Charles Trenet. (2,3) 10. Eighth letter of the Greek alphabet. (5) 11. West African nation where Kpelle is spoken by the largest ethnic group. (7) 12. Capital city known by its locals as Wien. (6) 14. Say 'Hi' to Yehudi! (6) 17. A word to describe the likes of Casanova. (7) 19. Poetically shining from Latin (but sounds very woolly). (5) 22. You'll find one in Egyptian temples, and supporting electricity distribution. (5) 23. Jesus spoke an old version of this language. (7) 24. One of four writing systems in Japanese. (5) 25. Former name of a vast part of Central Eurasia, including the Ukrainian steppes. (7) 1 2 3 Down 1. Slang associated with thieves and the homeless. (5) 2. A real French heavyweight. (5) 3. Arabic-speaking nation, whose name means 'the two seas'. (7) 4. Language from Horn of Africa once written in Osmanian script. (6) 5. Briefly, make it up as you go. (2,3) 6. Naval rank from Arabic for 'commander'. (7) 7. Form of humour from Greek for 'flesh-tearing'. (7) 12. 'World language' created by Schleyer in 1880. (7) 13. The first letter in the native word for Greece. (7) 15. The country which gave us goulash. (7) 16. Local name for Dutch dialect spoken in Belgium. (6) 18. Latin for 'mushrooms', sounds like he likes to throw parties. (5) 20. What does a Lehrer or instituteur do? (5) 21. A country home coveted by Russians. (5) Answers, page 32. 4 5 8 7 20 21 9 10 12 6 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 22 23 24 25 APRIL/MAY The Linguist 27

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