Rhyme and Reason
Winner of the Association of American Publishers' 1998 PSP Award for Best New Book in Literature and Language
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. In addition to the device of the dialogue, the author employs a myriad of graphics--everything from classical paintings to contemporary cartoons.
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. For according to the linguist, the linguistic system in our species emerged as a complex system, comparable to other complex phenomena in life that elude strict adaptationist explanations.
In his foreword, Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini says, "The vast number of readers who have been enthralled by Gödel, Escher, Bach may well like also this syntactic companion, a sort of 'Chomsky, Fibonacci, Bach.'"