Nirmalangshu Mukherji





1. The Cartesian Mind: Reflections on Language and Music. Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla, 2000


The work examines some of the fundamental discoveries of contemporary linguistic theory, also known as generative grammar, to conclude that the basic computational architecture of human language is not linguistically specific; in that sense the architecture is likely to cover other cognitive domains unique to humans. One such domain is music; there must be many others such as arithmetic, kinship relations, map-making, and the like. Keeping to music in this work, it is claimed that, at a certain level of theoretical description, the mental systems that enter into the creation of linguistic and musical expressions are one and the same. The system so uncovered matches the Cartesian conception of mind in the right joints.



  1.  The Body and Mind Conundrum, The Hindu
  2.  Review by Probal Dasgupta. The Yearbook of South Asian Languages and Linguistics 2003
  3.  Review by Probal Dasgupta. The Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research, 2004.



2. The Architecture of Language by Noam Chomsky. Edited by N. Mukherji, B.N. Patnaik and R.K. Agnihotri. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2000


This book consists of an edited transcript of a lecture, delivered at the University of Delhi in January 1996, where Chomsky reflects on the overall history of the generative enterprise to relate it to some strikingly novel advances in grammatical theory, called the ‘Minimalist Program’. Integrating philosophical and conceptual issues with empirical research, he sketches some of the key issues that have characterised generative grammar in recent years to chart out the agenda for future research in language theory. The transcript tries to retain the lively, engaging style for which Chomsky is renowned as a public speaker. The discussion that followed the lecture was a lively event on the scope of linguistics, language acquisition, and the theory of the language and mind. In his extensive responses to a set of wide-ranging questions, Chomsky goes much beyond the issues raised in the lecture itself. The volume includes extensive clarificatory notes and references. While linguists interested in the internal history of generative linguistics will find this an immensely insightful work, it will be useful also for students and general readers who wish to gain an introductory knowledge of the discipline and its overall significance.



  1.  Chaoqun Xie, Language,Volume 79, Number 3, September 2003 p. 649.
  2.  Adriano Palma, Linguist List, 12.1842.



3. The Primacy of Grammar  The MIT Press, Cambridge, 2010; Prentice-Hall EEE, 2011; MIT Paperback 2012.


Biolinguistics has been able to maintain some distance from topics that are traditionally thought to be central to the study of language: meaning, concepts, truth-conditions, and communication. This is not to suggest that what currently falls under the non-grammatical aspects of language will never be a part of grammatical theory. But, as with matured sciences, the chances are that each such incorporation will be hard-fought, since it will have to be formulated, not due to pressures from ‘outside,’ but from within the evolving framework of biolinguistics. This restriction to grammar, so delinked from ‘language,’ opens the possibility that the computational system of human language may be involved in each cognitive system that requires similar computational resources. A mixture of analytical argumentation, varieties of empirical (including introspective) evidence, and some speculation suggests a picture in which a computational system consisting of very specific principles and operations is likely to be centrally involved in each articulatory symbol system that manifests unboundedness. In this restricted sense, the object of biolinguistics exemplifies the Cartesian picture of a united mind. In other words, the suggestion is that the following things converge: (a) the scientific character of biolinguistics, (b) its isolation from the rest of science and, thus, from the rest of human inquiry, (c) its basic explanatory form, namely, the computational-representational framework, and (d) the domains of its application.




It is a sign of maturity for any given field that a philosopher should reflect on its foundations. When the philosopher understands the field in its technical minutiae, it is a privilege, even a contribution. Moreover, given its approach and scope, a work like Mukherji's should reach a wide audience beyond linguistics, which is vital for the dissemination of the biolinguistics project that he elegantly introduces.

- Juan Uriagereka, Department of Linguistics, University of Maryland


This wide-ranging monograph provides a masterly and lucid overview of Chomsky's 'biolinguistics' enterprise and builds on it to offer a novel account of the nature of the human faculty of language. The core of that faculty is our tacit knowledge of grammar, the unique domain where the methodology of the hard sciences has been fruitfully applied to human cognition. In a tightly argued and challenging discussion, Mukherji goes on to suggest that there is a single computational system (essentially Chomsky's CHLthe computational system of human language) underlying all of language, music, mathematics and logic (the 'hominid set'). He defends this speculative thesis with insightful discussion of music, both Indian and Western, and ends with the striking suggestion that CHL is the unique computational system in nature. Mukherji's work is likely to trigger admiration and outrage in equal measure. It is an elegant achievement.

- Neil Smith, Department of Linguistics, University College London




Mukherji's stance is that of a philosopher wanting to tease out what makes grammar special in the landscape of the human sciences and science as such....Overall, Mukherji urges that the computational system of human language is not language specific but restricted to a small number of human domains and thus defines the 'hominid set'. If this thesis turns out to be correct, the part of reality which the study of CHL reveals comes close to what one might expect from an empirical investigation of the mind.... However austere and bleak Mukherji's picture may seem at times, it is a bold and impressive attempt to reorganize the landscape of the philosophy of mind and language.

- Wolfram Hinzen et. al., Notre Dam Philosophical Reviews, 2010.




4. The Human Mind Through the Lens of Language: Generative Explorations. Bloomsbury Academic. 2022


Most living forms in nature display various cognitive abilities in their behaviour. However, except for humans, no other animal builds fires and wheels, navigates with maps and tells stories to other conspecifics. We can witness this unique feature of the human mind in almost everything humans do, such as painting, singing and cooking; there is an underlying sense of unity in the generative part of these systems despite wide differences in what they are about.


This book introduces, defends and develops a novel philosophical approach to the study of the generative mind. Nirmalangshu Mukherji argues for a single, species-specific generative principle that accounts for the human ability to combine symbolic forms without bound in each domain that falls under the generative mind.




‘‘Mukherji uses the scalpel of philosophy of science to reshape fundamental issues in the philosophy of mind. In his new book he pursues this strategy by showing how linguistics contributes to the enterprise: core principles of language not only further the understanding of, but actually characterize the human mind.’’

- Roberto Casati, Director, Nicod Institute, France


‘‘The volume is a very lively and well-informed presentation of an original take on human mentality: a distinctive kind of combinatorial capacity, which is not localised by content or material realisation. While Murkherji takes his lead from Chomsky, he ranges far afield, bringing to bear a host of disciplines in support of his thesis. The book is suitable for everyone from students to scholars in linguistics, psychology, and philosophy, all of whom will be informed and entertained.’’

- John Collins, Professor of Philosophy, University of East Anglia, UK





Perhaps the most important message of Mukherji’s book is that the principles of linguistic theory do not simply form a part of mental life; they in fact help characterize the central notion of the human mind. By centralizing the generative structure-building capacity in his philosophy of mind, Mukherji successfully revives a more classical theme that linguistics should be seen as the ‘queen’ of the cognitive sciences.

- Elliot Murphy,  Biolinguistics, 2023, Vol. 17, Article e13067




5. Sounds of Thought. In prep.


Following Aristotle, the classical view of language is that language is a system of sound-meaning correlation. A recent proposal, due to Noam Chomsky and others, is that language is basically a vehicle of thought, sound is ancillary, perhaps sound is an evolutionary afterthought designed for articulation of thought. In the book under preparation, this recent view is totally rejected.


It is argued that the view fails to distinguish between articulation and symbolisation. Even if articulation of thought could be viewed  as secondary, the origin of symbols must be primary for the grammatical operation Merge to become operative in the human mind. The sound system provides for the symbolisation of experiential content which are then put together by Merge.


Once we adopt this alternative Aristotelian perspective, we may explain (a) the origin of concepts in humans, (b) absence of them in nonhumans, (c) astonishing variety of sound systems, (d) absence of speech in animals, and a variety of other unresolved issues in inquiries on the human mind.









  • Definiteness and Descriptions, Canadian Philosophical Association Annual Meeting, Montreal, May 1985.
  • What is Group Reference, Ontario Philosophical Association Founding Conference, University of Toronto, November 1985.
  • Descriptions and Group Reference, American Philosophical Association Pacific Division, Los Angeles, March 1986.
  • Referential-Attributive Revisited, Canadian Philosophical Association Annual Meeting, Winnipeg, May 1986.
  • Explanations in Cognitive Science, Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Science Annual Meeting, Waterloo, October 1986.
  • Computational View of Language, Two Lectures at Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, March 1989.
  • Varieties of Rule-Following, Conference on Wittgenstein, Jadavpur University, January 1990.
  • Language and Cognition, Six Lectures at North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong, July-August 1991.
  • Current State of Philosophy of Language, Conference on Review of Philosophy, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, March 1992.
  • Loading in Context, Seven Visiting Faculty Lectures in the Theory of Reference, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, September-October 1992.
  • Grammar and the Politics of Cognition, Conference on Future of Philosophy, University of Waterloo, May 1993.
  • Linguistics and Musical Cognition, One Visiting Lecture, Indian Insitute of Advanced Study, Shimla, August 1996.
  • Artifacts of Meaning, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, February 1997.
  • Mind of Physics, Conference on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Indian Insitute of Advanced Study, Shimla, August 1997.
  • Aspects of Music Criticism, Conference on Tradition and Criticism, Indian Insitute of Advanced Study, Shimla, November 1997.
  • Displacement and Logical Form, Conference on Bertrand Russell, Rabindra-Bharati University, Calcutta, March 1998.
  • The Syntax-Semantics Divide, Conference on Norms, Reliability and Science, Indian Insitute Of Advanced Study, Shimla, May 1998.
  • On Syntax and Semantics, Two lectures at Jadavpur University, February 1999.
  • CHL and Linguistic Specificity, Special Lecture to All India Linguistics Congress, Annual Meeting, IIT Kanpur, December, 1999.
  • Perfect Systems, Conference on Mind, Language and Evolution of Consciousness, ICPR, Lucknow, July 2000.
  • Constraining the Cartesian Programme, Mind and Language Series Lecture 1, Crea, Paris, October 2000.
  • Reflections on Linguistic Theory, Mind and Language Series Lecture 2, Crea, Paris, October 2000.
  • Music and Cognition, Lecture to Art and Cognition Group, CREA, Paris, October 2000.
  • Components of Significance, Three Visiting Faculty Lectures, Jadavpur University, March 2002.
  • Narrow Mind, Joint Session of Institut Jean Nicod and Apic, Paris, June 2003.
  • Computationalism and Biological Isolation, Keynote address, Conference on Computation and Brain, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, February 2004.
  • Syntax of Thought, Conference on Methodology of Science, Viswa Bharati University, January 2006.
  • On Language and Music, Two lectures at Winter School of Phonology, CIIL, Mysore, January 2006.
  • Russell’s Equivalence, Conference on 100 Years of ‘On Denoting’, Rabindra Bharati University, March 2007
  • Truth, Computation, Intelligibility, Conference on Science and Aesthetics, PHISPC, Gauhati, March 2007
  • Music in the mind, Conference on Cognition & Learning, Vidya Bhavan Society, Udaipur, October 2007
  • Science, Truth, Intelligibility, Conference on Science and Human Nature, University of Kerala, Trivandrum, November 2007
  • Internal Significance, Keynote address, Conference on Philosophical Approaches to Language, Lucknow University, December 2007
  • Tools and Instructions, Lecture at Institut Jean Nicod, Paris, December 2008
  • Computationalism, Lecture at Department of Philosophy, Durham University, UK, January 2009
  • Approaches to Reference, Fellow’s Lecture at Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University, UK, January 2009.
  • Truth and Science, Public Lecture at Pemberton Hall, Durham University, UK, January 2009.
  • Computational Approach to Language, Keynote Lecture, International Conference of Linguistics Students, Mumbai University, January 2010.
  • Language and Music, Public Lecture, Viswa Bharati University, January 2010.
  • Reference and Singular Terms, Conference on Language and Adjoining Systems, Udaipur, March 2010.
  • How far does Computational Theory go?, Conference on Character of Mind, IIAS, Shimla, March, 2011.
  • Scope of Computational Theory, University of Waterloo, September 23, 2011.
  • Human Reference, Conference on Language, Creativity and Recursion, University of Quebec, Montreal, September, 2011.
  • What is in the Mind, Three visiting professorship lectures, IIAS, Shimla, Summer 2012.
  • Ants and Computation, Guest Fellowship Leture, IIAS, Shimla, Summer 2013.
  • Scope of Computation, International Conference on Language and Cognition, University of Hyderabad, October 2013.
  • Emergence of Mind, Presidency University Humanities Lecture Series, February 2014.
  • Speech and Human Reference, Conference on Embodied Mind, University of Hyderabad, February 2014.
  • Darwin's Guess, Invited talk Science Forum, Undergraduate Students Forum, Hindu College, March 2014.
  • Mind, Language, Human Reality, Three Einstein Lectures, Viswa-Bharati University, August 2015: Human Reality, From Language to Mind, Merge and Mind.
  • Darwin’s Model, Two lectures at Agarkar Institute of Basic sciences, Pune, November 2015.
  • Mind, Language, Human Reality, Five National Professor Lectures delivered across the country, November 2015 to March 2016: U. of Allahabad, Jadavpur University (Calcutta), University of Goa, University of Hyderabad, Gauhati University.
  • Reality and Intelligibility, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, March 2016.
  • Science and Human Reality, Indian Institute of Technology, Ropar, March 2017.
  • Sound of Thoughts, Invited Lecture at international conference on Linguistic Explanation, CEP-2019, University of Heidelberg, Germany, February, 2019.
  • Towards a Theory of Human Mind, Three Visiting Professor Lectures at University of North Bengal, Siliguri, February 2019.
  • Sound of Reference, Monash University Colloquium, November 2020.
  • Sound of Language, Institut Jean Nicod, Paris, May 2021
  • Language and the Generative Mind, University of Oslo, Norway, 30 August 2022. Also, NTNU, Trondheim, Norway 7 September 2022.
  • Sound of Reference (revised), NTNU, Trondheim, Norway, 8 September 2022.
  • A Homeric Struggle on Language and Mind University of Delhi International Conference on Reflections on Hundred Years of Philosophy in India, organized by Department of Philosophy, University of Delhi, as part of University of Delhi Centenary Celebrations 1922-2022

Find Books

Find articles