David Lightfoot’s account of diachronic syntax proposes the autonomous operation of a Transparency Principle to remove opacity and complexity in a language by means of radical re-analysis. Parameter setting and “bumpiness” supersede the Transparency Principle in Lightfoot’s later accounts. Lightfoot’s ideas are inspired by Noam Chomsky. Avowedly, the Transparency Principle, it will be shown, is a possible outgrowth of Chomsky’s evaluation procedures; in turn, it will be argued, parameter setting (Government and Binding) may be attributable to the influence of Lightfoot’s Transparency Principle, which itself embodies an analogous on-off switch as a prelude to radical re-analysis.
Lightfoot’s methodology combines elements derived from Karl Popper and Imre Lakatos, yielding a mix of deduction, induction and abduction in order to achieve descriptive and explanatory frameworks. The viability of this approach will be considered in an analysis of Lightfoot’s (and Chomsky’s) use of logic. One vocal critic, Frans Plank, counters Lightfoot’s autonomous syntax and catastrophic change with a theory of gradualness. In view of Plank, I examine how the available historical evidence can lead to other conclusions. Some alternative voices, among them Jan-Terje Faarlund and Nomi Erteschik-Shir, posit theories associated with information structure and pragmatics. These also explain diachronic syntactic change.
Finally, I suggest a strong correlation between the work of Chomsky and Ferdinand de Saussure. Change in Saussurean "langue" and Chomskyan I-language can be seen as mirror images of each other, and I treat Chomsky’s dismissive reaction to Saussure as a possible instance of “anxiety of influence” in the tradition of the literary theorist Harold Bloom. Taken thus, what follows from Lightfoot is much of what Chomsky proposed, which Lightfoot later codifies in an altered form in his theorizing. These aspects of influence and possible symbiosis, be they between Saussure, Chomsky, Lightfoot or others, make the field of linguistics ripe for historiographical research and reception studies.