It is widely believed that the formal systems we now call generative grammars were developed by Noam Chomsky during the early 1950s as an an alternative to the inductive discovery-procedure methods of 1940s American structuralism. But generative grammars were in fact rigorously formalized three decades earlier, for an entirely different purpose, by a young mathematician named Emil Leon Post (1897--1954).
|Date||18 March 2019|
Post also proved two absolutely fundamental theorems about expressive power which remain highly relevant to current linguistics. Citational failures have long obscured Post's centrality in the prehistory of generative grammar. In this talk I retell Post's fascinating and tragic story, review some of his brilliant but much-overlooked work, and ask why generative grammar's debt to him has never been adequately acknowledged. Answering that question leads to examine (among other things) the details of Chomsky's education and early employment, and the strange view that Chris Knight sets out in his recent book about the MIT linguistics program's association with military research.
Geoffrey K. Pullum is Professor of General Linguistics at the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh