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The Philosophy of Universal Grammar by Wolfram (Research Professor, Catalan Institute for Advanced Studies (ICREA)) Hinzen, Michelle (Research Associate, Dep Sheehan


The Philosophy of Universal Grammar by Wolfram (Research Professor, Catalan Institute for Advanced Studies (ICREA)) Hinzen, Michelle (Research Associate, Dep Sheehan

What is grammar? Why does it exist? What difference, if any, does it make to the organization of meaning? This book seeks to give principled answers to these questions. Its topic is 'universal' grammar, in the sense that grammar is universal to human populations. But while modern generative grammar stands in the tradition of 'Cartesian linguistics' as emerging in the 17th century, this book re-addresses the question of the grammatical in a broader historical frame, taking inspiration from Modistic and Ancient Indian philosopher-linguists to formulate a different and 'Un-Cartesian' programme in linguistic theory. Its core claim is that the organization of the grammar is not distinct from the organization of human thought. This sapiens-specific mode of thought is uniquely propositional: grammar, therefore, organizes propositional forms of reference and makes knowledge possible. Such a claim has explanatory power as well: the grammaticalization of the hominin brain is critical to the emergence of our mind and our speciation. A thoroughly interdisciplinary endeavour, the book seeks to systematically integrate the philosophy of language and linguistic theory. It casts a fresh look at core issues that any philosophy of (universal) grammar will need to address, such as the distinction between lexical and grammatical meaning, the significance of part of speech distinctions, the grammar of reference and deixis, the relation between language and reality, and the dimensions of cross-linguistic and bio-linguistic variation.


This book asks some of the most fundamental questions that there can be about language and mind, and answers them in ways which are provocative, challenging, and surprising, in the context of current theorizing within philosophy and linguistics. The theory is supported by a wealth of conceptual and empirical arguments with detailed discussion of consequences for central grammatical notions such as case, person, word order, phases, and semantic notions such as reference, predication, and truth. This must be one of the most important books about language and thought in a very long time. * Anders Holmberg, Professor of Theoretical Linguistics, Newcastle University * An essential reference for anyone trying to grapple with the mysterious underpinnings of that most essential of human qualities, language. * Ian Tattersall, Curator Emeritus, American Museum of Natural History * A radical vision that challenges standard conceptions that human language is a mere conduit for thought, that there is a Language of Thought, and that Grammar and Semantics are separable. Hinzen and Sheehan ground their Un-Cartesian approach in ancient linguistic traditions in India and in the work of the Modistae, for whom grammar was central to an understanding of minds, and reality. Upturning major assumptions of modern Linguistics and Philosophy of Language, this enthralling book is a central one for Cognitive Science. * Jill De Villiers, Professor of Psychology and Philosophy, Smith College *

About the Author

Wolfram Hinzen Wolfram Hinzen is a Research Professor at the Catalan Institute for Advanced Studies and Research (ICREA) and is affiliated with the Linguistics department of the University of Barcelona and the Philosophy Department of the University of Durham (2006-2014). He writes on issues in the interface of language and mind. He is the author of Mind Design and Minimal Syntax (OUP, 2006) and An Essay on Names and Truth (OUP, 2007) and co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Compositionality (OUP, 2012). Michelle Sheehan is a Research Associate at the University of Cambridge specialising in comparative syntax with a particular interest in the Romance languages. She has worked on null arguments, Control, word order variation, extraposition, clausal-nominal parallels, and case/alignment. She is co-author of Parametric Variation: Null Subjects in Minimalist Theory (CUP, 2009) and co-editor of Theoretical Approaches to Disharmonic Word Orders (OUP, 2014).

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Book Info

Publication date

5th November 2015


Wolfram (Research Professor, Catalan Institute for Advanced Studies (ICREA)) Hinzen, Michelle (Research Associate, Dep Sheehan

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Oxford University Press


400 pages


Grammar, syntax & morphology
Philosophy of language



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