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From Whorf to MontagueExplorations in the Theory of Language$
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Pieter A. M. Seuren

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199682195

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199682195.001.0001

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The Chomsky hierarchy in perspective

The Chomsky hierarchy in perspective

Chapter:
(p.205) 6 The Chomsky hierarchy in perspective
Source:
From Whorf to Montague
Author(s):

Pieter A. M. Seuren

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199682195.003.0007

This chapter discusses the so-called Chomsky hierarchy of grammars, which is based on the presupposition that natural language grammars are algorithmic production systems classified according to the degrees to which such systems are restricted by mathematical constraints. The history and context of this hierarchy are sketched, showing that it produced insights seemingly relevant to the theory of grammar. Meanwhile, however, it has become clear that natural language grammars are all of type 0, the type that is totally unrestricted by mathematical constraints, making the other more mathematically constrained types irrelevant to the study of grammar. The universal constraints assumed to be valid for all grammars are of a non-mathematical, empirical kind, as is implicitly admitted in Chomskyan linguistics, which itself seeks such empirical constraints. One wonders, therefore, why Chomsky supports studies of the ‘linguistic’ abilities of primates based on their internalizing ‘grammars’ of the most restricted type. Chomsky, and the biologists concerned, presume that the evolution of language has proceeded along mathematical lines—an assumption that has no support.

Keywords:   autonomous syntax, Chomsky hierarchy, decidability, entropy, evolution of language, generative semantics, information technology, linguistic competence, parsing, recursivity

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