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Trends Cogn Sci. 2015 Dec;19(12):729-743. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2015.09.008. Epub 2015 Nov 10.

Structures, Not Strings: Linguistics as Part of the Cognitive Sciences.

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Utrecht Institute of Linguistics, Utrecht University, 3512 JK Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.
Cognitive Neurobiology and Helmholtz Institute, Departments of Psychology and Biology, Utrecht University, 3584 CH Utrecht, The Netherlands; Department of Zoology and Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. Electronic address:


There are many questions one can ask about human language: its distinctive properties, neural representation, characteristic uses including use in communicative contexts, variation, growth in the individual, and origin. Every such inquiry is guided by some concept of what 'language' is. Sharpening the core question--what is language?--and paying close attention to the basic property of the language faculty and its biological foundations makes it clear how linguistics is firmly positioned within the cognitive sciences. Here we will show how recent developments in generative grammar, taking language as a computational cognitive mechanism seriously, allow us to address issues left unexplained in the increasingly popular surface-oriented approaches to language.

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