Merge Is Not Recursion


Click here to return to the main page

doi: 10.6084/m9.figshare.4958822


Background

My review of "Why Only Us" by Berwick & Chomsky (2016). I have found two issues: their definition of recursion is not the mathematical one, and the strong minimalist thesis is too strong, and then it is not enough to explain the evolution of Merge to explain the evolution of language, which is what they are proposing in the book.

This paper received the harshest rejection I have ever received: "In sum, your contribution is a mélange of being unoriginal and uncontroversial, annoyingly pedantic, indefensibly subjective, and demonstrably false and/or fallacious." However, I still think that the strong minimalist thesis is too strong, and that this rejection was too harsh. My impression was that I had touched an open wound in linguistics, so that I hurt them. In any case, I must add that the comments by Berwick and Chomsky were not harsh at all, but very kind.

Abstract

This is a review of the book Why Only Us by Berwick & Chomsky done from the point of view of computing. The main conclusions are: that the book uses the word 'recursion' with a meaning that does not correspond to the meaning used in mathematics, causing confusion, and that the theory presented in the book, that syntax can be reduced to Merge, does not translate sensibly to computing, because Merge by itself cannot even parse, and therefore it is not enough to explain the evolution of Merge to explain the evolution of language, as the book proposes.

Why Only Us?

This is the concluding paragraph of my paper:
Taking together the two issues that I see in WOU [Why Only Us] —confusing universal computing with (unrestricted) computing, and reducing recursion to Merge—, we get a question that reveals WOU’s weakness. If insects already have enough computing capacity, as B&C [Berwick & Chomsky] believe (page 131), and language is just a minor mutation away, as B&C assume (page 70), then Why did only we evolve language? Why Only Us?


References

Link to the page of my review of "Why Only Us" by Berwick and Chomsky in figshare, and direct link to the pdf file.

Another version is in The Internet Archive, with its pdf file.

These are the external references used in this page:


Última actualización: 2019-08-10.

© Ramón Casares 2019