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About

I’m a Ph.D. candidate in Linguistics at Newcastle University, where I’m supervised by Profs Anders Holmberg and Maggie Tallerman for my thesis, Syntax Without Words.

I began the project by asking how Minimalist syntax could best account for the evolutionary origins of language and I was eventually led to unpick some long-standing assumptions of generative theory, while wanting nonetheless to maintain its foundations.

In particular, in Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, Chomsky introduced the now standard T-model, in which syntax is said to have both a phonetic and a semantic interface, so that it generates both the structure and interpretation of a sentence in tandem. I argue from philosophical, biological and linguistic evidence that this cannot be true because it is cognitively impossible for a syntax-semantics interface to exist.

While I maintain that language somehow depends upon an innate generative module, I argue that this module generates only compositional thoughts that have no necessary connection at all to language, with their representation in language being thoroughly bound up in context-dependent pragmatics, hence we must reject any direct association of form and meaning. In effect, I argue for a generative interpretation of Wittgenstein, where meaning is not use but only use has meaning.

callum.hackett@newcastle.ac.uk / @callumjhackett