Recursion as a Human Universal and as a Primitive

Boban Arsenijevic, Wolfram Hinzen


This contribution asks, in an empirical rather than formal perspective, whether a range of descriptive phenomena in grammar usually characterized in terms of ‘recursion’ actually exhibit recursion. It is concluded that empirical evidence does not support this customary assumption. Language, while formally recursive, need not be recursive in the underlying generative mechanisms of its grammar. Hence, while recursion may well be one of the hallmarks of human nature, grammar may not be the cognitive domain where it is found. Arguments for this claim are briefly exposed and then discussed with respect to a selection of talks from the DGfS workshop on Foundations of Language Comparison: Human Universals as Constraints on Language Diversity that led to this special issue.


cyclic spell-out; interfaces; narrow syntax; recursion

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