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 my doctoral project by asking how Minimalist syntax could best account for the evolutionary origins of language and this eventually led me to pick away at some long-standing assumptions of generative grammar, while wanting nonetheless to maintain its foundations.

In Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, Chomsky introduced the now standard T-model, in which the generative component of human intelligence produces both the structure of a sentence and its (compositional) meaning in tandem, syntax having both a phonetic and a semantic interface. I argue from philosophical, biological and empirical evidence that this cannot be true.

While I maintain that language is somehow dependent upon a generative cognitive module, I argue that this module generates only compositional thoughts that have no necessary connection to language, with it likely existing in other species. Linguistic expressions meanwhile have to be produced by a separate faculty as non-compositional approximations of compositional thoughts, which only acquire compositional meaning through contextual use.

callum.hackett@newcastle.ac.uk