The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

CompLang 9/28 - Ray Jackendoff (Tufts)

Speaker: Ray Jackendoff (Tufts)
Title: Morphology and Memory
Date/Time: Thursday, September 28, 5:00-7:00pm
Location: 46-5165

(in collaboration with Jenny Audring)

We take Chomsky’s term “knowledge of language” very literally. “Knowledge” implies “stored in memory,” so the basic question of linguistics is reframed as

What do you store in memory such that you can use language, and in what form do you store it?

Traditionally – and in standard generative linguistics – what you store is divided into grammar and lexicon, where grammar contains all the rules, and the lexicon is an unstructured list of exceptions. We develop an alternative view in which rules of grammar are lexical items that contain variables, and in which rules have two functions. In their generative function, they are used to build novel structures, just as in traditional generative linguistics. In their relational function, they capture generalizations over stored items in the lexicon, a role not seriously explored in traditional linguistic theory. The result is a lexicon that is highly structured, with rich patterns among stored items.

We further explore the possibility that this sort of structuring is not peculiar to language, but appears in other cognitive domains as well. The differences among cognitive domains are not in this overall texture, but in the materials over which stored relations are defined – patterns of phonology and syntax in language, of pitches and rhythms in music, of geographical knowledge in navigation, and so on. The challenge is to develop theories of representation in these other domains comparable to that for language.