In the Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Analysis, 2015, Chapter 2, “The Adaptive Approach to Grammar”, by T. Givón, the author says that Joseph Greenberg’s attempt to characterize the universal aspect of language was more moderate than Chomsky’s, which he calls comparatively extreme.
Many fine linguists, especially those who followed the structuralist dogma of arbitrariness… expressed strong doubts about language universals… Others, like Chomsky, have militated for an extreme version of universality and innateness, by extracting from the vast and varied phenomenology of language features a few sufficiently abstract ones that are then said to be shared by all human languages…
A more balanced empirical approach to the problem, perhaps best exemplified in the works of Joseph Greenberg… adopts a middle-ground biological perspective, whereby both variation and universals are acknowledged. Thus, specific features of both phonology and syntax may vary considerably across languages, and the aggregation of such variation may lead to a, seemingly, staggering cross-language diversity. But within each functional-structural domain, the variation is severely constrained — say, five to seven major types of structures that usually code the same communicative function. And the constraints on variation are mediated by general adaptive principles… Language universals are not a set of concrete traits found in all languages but rather a set of general principles that control development.
This sounds to me like a misreading/misrepresentation of Chomsky, where what is being attributed to Greenberg is more or less exactly what Chomsky’s vision of language is, at least as laid out in Chapter 1 of The Minimalist Program: a theory of a system with some variational parameters which account for the seeming observable variation in human language.
Am I wrong?
Is Greenberg more “moderate” than Chomsky in some essential way?