Three Ways to Link Merge with Hierarchical Concept-Combination

  • Chris Thornton Centre for Research in Cognitive Science, University of Sussex
Keywords: Merge, minimalism, hierarchical concept combinability

Abstract

In the Minimalist Program, language competence is seen to stem from a fundamental ability to construct hierarchical structure, an operation dubbed ‘Merge’. This raises the problem of how to view hierarchical concept-combination. This is a conceptual operation which also builds hierarchical structure. We can conceive of a garden that consists of a lawn and a flower-bed, for example, or a salad consisting of lettuce, fennel and rocket, or a crew consisting of a pilot and engineer. In such cases, concepts are put together in a way that makes one the accommodating element with respect to the others taken in combination. The accommodating element becomes the root of a hierarchical unit. Since this unit is itself a concept, the operation is inherently recursive. Does this mean the mind has two independent systems of hierarchical construction? Or is some form of integration more likely? Following a detailed examination of the operations involved, this paper shows there are three main ways in which Merge might be linked to hierarchical concept-combination. Also examined are the architectural implications that arise in each case.
Published
2016-11-19
Section
Articles