Syntax and Language Bias: Case Studies in Arithmetic and Music
Nirmalangshu Mukherji
June 2021

There is a considerable literature by now on the generative properties of a variety of non-linguistic systems displayed by humans: arithmetic, music, kinship relations, stone-tool making, artistic products, games like chess, and the like. Given the strong intuition that these are unbounded generative procedures, the question naturally arises whether the basic operation involved in these non-linguistic systems is the familiar linguistic operation Merge. However, it is not difficult to see that the research in the massively interdisciplinary, and possibly unifying, field has been scuttled by what may be called the language bias: either the system under study reflects the basic properties of language or it is not a generative system at all. I argue that the language bias has no basis even in the paradigmatic cases of arithmetic and music. This is because Merge is not specific to a domain, even if it operates in a specific lexical workspace. So, whether Merge, or its variant, is a universal generative operation is an apt research question. NOTE: In the book, this discussion is preceded by (a) a long discussion of why Merge is not linguistically specific, and (b) why no notion of computation applies to desert ants and birdsongs.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/006000
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: To appear as section (7.3) in Mind in The Mirror of Language, London, Bloomsbury
keywords: generative procedure, syntax, merge, language, music, arithmetic
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