What Is Un-Cartesian Linguistics?


  • Wolfram Hinzen


Un-Cartesian linguistics is a research program with the aim of rethinking the nature of grammar as a domain of scientific inquiry, raising new questions about the constitutive role of grammar in the organization of our (rational) minds and selves. It reformulates the ‘Cartesian’ foundations of the modern Universal Grammar project, shifting emphasis away from the study of a domain-specific ‘innate’ module separate from thought, to the study of a sapiens-specific mode of cognition conditioned by both grammatical and lexical organization, and thus a particular cognitive phenotype, which is uniquely also a linguistic one. The purpose of this position paper is to introduce and motivate this new concept in its various dimensions and in accessible terms, and to define the ‘Un-Cartesian Hypothesis’: that the grammaticalization of the hominin brain in the evolutionary transition to our species uniquely explains why our cognitive mode involves a capacity for thought in a propositional format.