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Book Chapter

Chomsky in search of a pedigree


Seuren,  Pieter A. M.
Language Comprehension Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Hamans, C., & Seuren, P. A. M. (2010). Chomsky in search of a pedigree. In D. A. Kibbee (Ed.), Chomskyan (R)evolutions (pp. 377-394). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0012-6620-8
This paper follows the changing fortunes of Chomsky’s search for a pedigree in the history of Western thought during the late 1960s. Having achieved a unique position of supremacy in the theory of syntax and having exploited that position far beyond the narrow circles of professional syntacticians, he felt the need to shore up his theory with the authority of history. It is shown that this attempt, resulting mainly in his Cartesian Linguistics of 1966, was widely, and rightly, judged to be a radical failure, even though it led to a sudden revival of interest in the history of linguistics. Ironically, the very upswing in historical studies caused by Cartesian Linguistics ended up showing that the real pedigree belongs to Generative Semantics, developed by the same ‘angry young men’ Chomsky was so bent on destroying.