This began to change with Chomsky's "mimimalist program" in 1995, which jettisoned the idea of any well-defined layer of syntactic structure in between meaning ("logical form") and sound ("phonological form"), and therefore also discarded many of the parametric switches and knobs available in his earlier theories. And the change became important in the early oughts, when he decided that the human language faculty "only includes recursion".The important piece was that Ken Hale had long ago argued that Walpiri has 'adjoining relative clauses' rather than recursive structures.
That this is the key moment in the "only recursion" stuff I'll buy, but is it really true that recursion wasn't assumed to be a core part of grammar earlier in linguistic theory? I recall recursion being central through lots of early generative grammar in ways that would make it an extraordinary property for any language to lack. And poking around quickly in a few early works on generative syntax, I sure see a lot made of the notion. But I don't know the history here, so consulted Newmeyer's Linguistic Theory in America (the 1st edition, from 1980). He talks about ways of capturing "the recursive property of human language" (p. 27), and then (p. 36, emphasis in original):
By the early 1950s many logicians simply ASSUMED that a natural language was defined by a set of recursive rules.So, what am I missing here? Hasn't recursion long been central enough to make Everett's claims outrageous even before minimalism? I can see that this is the perfect moment for him to trot out this stuff, in terms of attacking generative theory, but isn't it a broader attack on all modern formal approaches to language? Who has a view of language where recursion is something we can use or not use, like marking an illative case? (These are real questions — this is too far from my ken.)
Gotta run ...
Image from here.