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Universal Grammar, what it is and the case for/against it

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Jonathan Troop

on 16 May 2011

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Transcript of Universal Grammar, what it is and the case for/against it

Universal Grammar (UG) Noam Chomsky Chomsky proposed that there is a Universal Grammar hardwired into the brain of all humans

All human languages evolved on top of that Universal Grammar

Children learn ther native languages using Universal Grammar as a support structure

The Poverty of Stimulus The Brain Language Definition UG Input from Environment Language as a Seedling 5th Century B.C. The emergence of
the practice of systematic
grammatical descriptions
of language in ancient Greece. 1940s Behaviorism: Language is a learned behavior
The Blank Slate View Socrates B. F. Skinner 13th Century All languages are built upon a common grammar
Languages may undergo accidental variations During this period, many philosophers tried to find fundamental rules common to all languages. 1960s Noam Chomsky Universal Grammar The History of UG Principles and Paramaters "Principles lay down the fundamental features of natural language, where the parameters embody their variability, in that they offer a limited range of choices as a consequence of which languages may differ by taking one of the permitted values of each parameter." Eating Food Manners Utensils Parameters are a finite set of options within Principles Allows people to learn first and second languages Principles are categories across languages Forms the framework for the functioning of UG Definition Importance Word Order English: SVO : I eat hamburgers. Japanese: SOV : The Argument for UG Creolization Conditional and Unconditional Universals The creolization process Pidgin Creolization A simplified language
Develops between two or more groups who don't share a common language
Heavily used in trade situations
Not speakers' native language
Can incorporate words, sounds, or body language from multiple languages and cultures Natural Language
Originates from a nativized pidgin
Vocabulary consists of cognates from parent languages
Grammars tend to differ from parent language Importance to UG Noun and Adjective Categorization Anjum Saleemi Functional categories (color, size, shape, etc.) appear in clusters, and those clusters are in similar locations in the brain across speakers of different languages. In this diagram, we see that a bilingual speaker often shares locations of functional categories between both languages Functional categories are located in similar parts of the brain amongst speakers of different languages

Knowledge about language is innate for humans How Universal is UG? The foundation for Greenburg's Language Universals Languages with decent descriptions
(full grammars and dictionaries) Approx. 500 30 languages Total number of languages believed to exist Approx. 7000 If a language holds certain properties, it then usually shows other corresponding characteristics 99% of Pr + NP lgs have NRel
61% of NP + Po lgs have RelN
94% of SVO lgs have NRel
100% of VSO lgs have NRel Language selects certain parameters

Possibilities for further parameters are narrowed. Language Universals Phonetic Double Articulations - Two primary places of articulation in the same manner. Maximal Onset Principle Other Examples Originally: Contrastive doubly-articulated positions are not possible in natural language (labial-alveolars like /b/ and /d/ at the same time) (Maddieson, 1983). Yélî Dnye Language of Papua has this feature: Source: Sounds of the World's Languages book As many consonants as possible will be syllabified at the start of a syllable, as long as it is a "good" syllable Example: "Caprice" 1. 2. The "Arrernte" languge violates this long-held belief and is devoid of syllable onsets: Source:http://www.ic.arizona.edu/~lsp/Phonology/Syllables/Phonology3h.html Source: http://www.ling.upenn.edu/Events/PLC/plc25/schedule/raimy.pdf UG as Pseudoscience Conclusions The "Big Four" of Open Classes Lao Recursion Straits Salish Pirahã Numbers Color Words Source: birdgei.wordpress.com/2010/10/13/piraha-people-carpe-diem-culture-doesnt-allow-for-abstract-thought-or-complicated-connections-to-the-past-limiting-the-language-accordingly Source: http://www.ethnologue.com/show_map.asp?name=CA&seq=30 Incorrect Predictions Untestable, Unfalsifiable Language Universals Children's Acquistion -
Learning by Repetition
(Ramscar & Yartlett's Experiements) "Unlimited Toolkit" How can you test UG? UG is an improvement from prior language acquisition frameworks UG accounts for a wide variety of differences in linguistic structures UG has led to new understandings of how humans learn langauge, resulting in improvements to second language instruction UG is incomplete and currently cannot account for all of the differences in linguistic structures The accuracy of UG's predictions about language universals becomes worse as we learn about more languages UG does make several accurate predictions about the language acquisition process Where categories exist in the brain The visual areas The auditory areas The answer is UG because:

Principles and Parameters of natural language are hardwired into the brain.

Children of pidgin speakers can access the different parts of UG to form a complete language.

Missing Gaps (lexical, morphological, etc.) are filled in. Importance to UG Importance to UG
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