Cartesian Linguistics

The term Cartesian linguistics was coined with the publication of Cartesian Linguistics: A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought (1966), a book on linguistics by Noam Chomsky, written with the purpose of deepening "our understanding of the nature of language and the mental processes and structures that underlie its use and acquisition" (ix).

Chomsky wishes to shed light on these underlying structures of the human language, and subsequently whether one can infer the nature of an organism from its language (x).

Cartesian linguistics refers to a form of linguistics developed during the time of René Descartes, a prominent 17th century philosopher whose ideas continue to influence modern philosophy. Chomsky's book, Cartesian Linguistics, manages to trace the development of linguistic theory from Descartes himself to Wilhelm von Humboldt, or in other words, directly from the period of the Enlightenment up to Romanticism (59). The central doctrine of Cartesian linguistics maintains that the general features of grammatical structure are common to all languages and reflect certain fundamental properties of the mind (59).

Chomsky's book received mostly unfavorable reviews and critics pointed that "cartesian linguistics" fails both as a methodological conceptionand a historical phenomenon.

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