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RecursionA Computational Investigation into the Representation and Processing of Language$
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David J. Lobina

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198785156

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198785156.001.0001

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The universality and uniqueness of recursion-in-language

The universality and uniqueness of recursion-in-language

(p.106) 4 The universality and uniqueness of recursion-in-language

David J. Lobina

Oxford University Press

The role of recursion in language is universal and unique. It is universal because the (Specifier)-Head-Complement(s) geometry is the type of structuring that all phrases and all languages unequivocally adhere to, and complexes of such phrases constitute a general recursive structure. It is unique because the asymmetric nature of [(Specifier)-[Head-Complement(s)]] structures is unattested in other domains of human cognition or in the cognition of other animal species. The common claim that not all languages manifest recursive structures is usually couched in terms of self-embedded sentences, a particular sub-type of the (Specifier)-Head-Complement(s) geometry. The increasingly common claim that certain representations in human general cognition or in the animal kingdom are isomorphic to language’s recursive structures is the result of great simplification of the representations under comparison, which undercuts the force of the argument. Linguistic structures in the form of bundles of (Specifier)-Head-Complement(s) remain quirky through and through—and universal in language.

Keywords:   linguistic structure, recursive structure, recursion, general cognition, animal

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