|The idea that a language is based on a system of rules determining the interpretation of its infinitely many sentences is by no means novel. Well over a century ago, it was expressed with reasonable clarity by Wilhelm von Humboldt in his famous but rarely studied introduction to general linguistics (Humboldt, 1836). His view that a language “makes infinite use of finite means” and that its grammar must describe the processes that make this possible is, furthermore, an outgrowth of a persistent concern, within rationalistic philosophy of language and mind, with this “creative” aspect of language use.||(v)|
|Although it was well understood that linguistic processes are in some sense “creative”, the technical devices for expressing a system of recursive processes were simply not available until much more recently. In fact, a real understanding of how a language can (in Humboldt’s words) “make infinite use of finite means” has developed only within the last thirty years, in the course of studies in the foundations of mathematics.||(8)|
Noam Chomsky (1965), Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.