Noam Chomsky is not only one of the most influential, but also one of the
most controversial figures in 20th century linguistics. In view of the
polarization of opinions on Chomsky, giving a balanced account of Chomskyan
linguistics is an ambitious venture. The approach chosen here is to
describe both Chomskyan linguistics and the positions defended by its
opponents in terms of research programmes. A research programme consists of
a number of assumptions on what language is and how it should be studied.
Only by assuming that research programmes adopted by a large number of
scholars for a prolonged period have to be rational, coherent systems can
we hope to fully understand the nature of the conflicts between them.
After a general discussion of the notion of research programme, it is shown
how the various stages of Chomskyan theory can be analysed as belonging to
a single, coherent research programme. This research programme is then
compared to the ones for Post-Bloomfieldian linguistics, Lexical-Functional
Grammar, Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar and Montague Grammar, and
Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar. Finally the relevance of the research
programme of Chomskyan linguistics for the practical study of the
acquisition, change, and use of language is addressed.