Recursion and the Language Faculty. On the Evolution of the Concept in Generative Grammar


  • Sven Kotowski
  • Holden Härtl



Recursion, History of Generative Grammar, Language Faculty, DDC: 400 (Language, linguistics)


Recursion has been a central feature of syntactic theory in generative grammar since its establishment in the 1950s (Bar-Hillel, 1953; Chomsky, 1956; 1957). Yet, since the highly influential 2002 paper by Hauser, Chomsky, and Fitch, and their strong hypothesis regarding the outstanding status of recursion in language, there has been a renewed interest in the subject. The ensuing debates, however, have been characterized by severe terminological confusion and thus been rendered futile at times. The aim of this article is to shed some light on different notions of recursion in general as well as in linguistic description and to provide a brief sketch of how these evolved in the development of generativism. We argue that two different perspectives need to be distinguished, which directly relate to distinct vantage points of earlier generative frameworks on the one hand and the Minimalist program on the other.