Evidence rebuts Chomsky's theory of language learning

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Kitty Brussaard  Identity Verified
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Linguists Abandon Noah Chomsky's 'Universal Grammar' Theory Sep 13, 2016

New research suggest a radically different view on language learning

[Edited at 2016-09-13 09:36 GMT]


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Kirsten Bodart  Identity Verified
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Anyone who thinks on a wider level than merely European languages Sep 13, 2016

knows Chomsky's theory is complete nonsense.

Although the Darwinist in me would contend that there is probably some kind of framework in our brains that evolved together with homo sapiens to aid us in acquiring 'language' as a communication device. But as the languages the human race speak are so widely different, that framework is probably so unspecific it's barely worth mentioning. It probably amounts to a kind of propensity to learn languages and speech than anything else. That to me, is not 'universal grammar'.
It's of the same nature as folk stories and fairy tales IMO: they all go along particular patterns, but the details differ depending on the culture that created them very far down the line. This can't be a coincidence, and I'd like to believe that these stories were probably passed down from the beginning of time, but the initial story or dare we say, fact, was probably very much different or more general than we could dream of. It's like family stories: there is always an element of truth in them, although they're never completely right.

My husband's Dutch professor spent one session debunking the theory for essentially going around in circles. Quite funny, really, how academics could believe in something like that. It only works if you look at Indo-European languages, I think, as soon as you have languages that don't work with this subject verb and object structure, you can see it no longer applies.


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Tom in London
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What a theory is Sep 13, 2016

A theory is just that: theory. Chomsky's theory is certainly interesting. But there's no point in trying to "debunk" it. Nobody, including Chomsky, is trying to prove anything. The point of a theory about anything is to contribute to the debate. I suspect some people just don't like the word "Chomsky", due to some deep-seated animal instinct.

[Edited at 2016-09-13 17:34 GMT]


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Kirsten Bodart  Identity Verified
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Some people in academia Sep 13, 2016

do consider that theory as 'truth' though...

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Anil Gidwani  Identity Verified
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Universal grammar - possible Sep 13, 2016

While I have not had a chance to study Chomsky's theory of universal grammar and language learning, I cannot discount the possibility that there is such a thing as universal grammar. My study of Sanskrit strongly indicates the existence of a universal grammar, and I'm sure those who've studied classical Latin and Greek might come to the same conclusion.

The case system in any language is one of the key elements that point to a universal grammar.


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neilmac  Identity Verified
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I second what Tom said Sep 13, 2016

Whether Chomsky's theory turns out to be "true" or not, it's still an interesting avenue to explore. And I do enjoy his disquisitions on other subjects, such as politics or current affairs. Anything that riles neocons is fine by me.

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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
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Can't go back to "empty book" theories! Sep 13, 2016

I do not think that doubts on Chomsky's theory automatically mean that we can go back to empty-book, behaviourist theories. I still believe in poverty of stimulus as one of the reasons why a "universal grammar mechanism" is very plausible indeed.

To me, if you can argue that universal grammar is rubbish, you haven't worked with toddlers for a long time. The same way toddlers learn to crawl and stand up from the ground without seeing a single adult do so, they surely have mechanisms that allow them to produce, at a very early age, grammatically correct sentences they have never heard before, and then take it from there and polish their abilities as they learn their language's irregularities and pragmatics.

All children, even if not the sharpest knife in the drawer, have this ability to identify the paradigmatic and sintagmatic relationships between words. This surely means that language acquisition is not the result of sheer human intelligence, but is based upon some treat we inherited from the likes of Mrs. Lucy.


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Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
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Poverty of the stimulus Sep 13, 2016

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:
I still believe in poverty of stimulus as one of the reasons why a "universal grammar mechanism" is very plausible indeed.


"... the principles and structures whose existence it is difficult to explain without universal grammar ... are theory-internal affairs and simply do not exist in usage-based theories of language ..."

http://ling.umd.edu/~staceyc/Tomasello1.pdf


To me, if you can argue that universal grammar is rubbish, you haven't worked with toddlers for a long time.



Constructing a Language
A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition

"Michael Tomasello presents a comprehensive usage-based theory of language acquisition. Drawing together a vast body of empirical research in cognitive science, linguistics, and developmental psychology, Tomasello demonstrates that we don’t need a self-contained “language instinct” to explain how children learn language. Their linguistic ability is interwoven with other cognitive abilities."

http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674017641





[Edited at 2016-09-13 21:10 GMT]


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Kirsten Bodart  Identity Verified
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Universal grammar - possible Sep 15, 2016

Anil Gidwani wrote:

While I have not had a chance to study Chomsky's theory of universal grammar and language learning, I cannot discount the possibility that there is such a thing as universal grammar. My study of Sanskrit strongly indicates the existence of a universal grammar, and I'm sure those who've studied classical Latin and Greek might come to the same conclusion.

The case system in any language is one of the key elements that point to a universal grammar.


Yes, but Sanskrit is also part of the Indo-European family of languages. I accept that all those have a similar structure, but outside that family it's completely different.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
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So, what's the difference? Sep 15, 2016

Kitty Brussaard wrote:
New research suggest a radically different view on language learning...


I've read the original article. It is very interesting, and it goes some way towards explaining the complex theories in a simple way. But the "new" theory is only dealt with towards the very end of the article, and it's not clear (to me) how the new theory differs from the old one.


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