Rhyme and Reason

An Introduction to Minimalist Syntax

This unusual book takes the form of a dialogue between a linguist and another scientist. The dialogue takes place over six days, with each day devoted to a particular topic—and the ensuing digressions. The role of the linguist is to present the fundamentals of the minimalist program of contemporary generative grammar. Although the linguist serves essentially as a voice for Noam Chomsky's ideas, he is not intended to be a portrait of Chomsky himself. The other scientist functions as a kind of devil's advocate, making the arguments that linguists tend to face from those in the "harder" sciences.

The author does far more than simply present the minimalist program. He conducts a running argument over the status of theoretical linguistics as a natural science. He raises the general issues of how we conceive words, phrases, and transformations, and what these processes tell us about the human mind. He also attempts to reconcile generative grammar with the punctuated equilibrium version of evolutionary theory.

In his foreword, Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini says, "The vast number of readers who have been enthralled by Goedel, Escher, Bach may well like also this syntactic companion, a sort of 'Chomsky, Fibonacci, Bach.'"

Table of Contents

  1. Synopsis
  2. Foreword

    Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini

  3. Preface
  4. The Linguist Meets the Other
  5. 1. The First Day: The Minimalist Viewpoint
  6. 2. The Second Day: Notation and Reality
  7. 3. The Third Day: Phrases and Linearity
  8. 4. The Fourth Day: Cyclic Transformations
  9. 5. The Fifth Day: Chains and Their Checking Domain
  10. 6. The Sixth Day: Words and Their Internal Domain
  11. And on the Seventh Day . . .
  12. Appendix

    Jairo Nunes and Ellen Thompson

  13. Chapter Summaries
  14. Major Definitions, Principles, and Conditions on the Model
  15. Notes
  16. Glossary
  17. Sources of Illustrations
  18. References
  19. Index