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Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device

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  • 1. Universidad de Santiago de Chile Facultad de Humanidades Departamento de Lingüística y Literatura Teoría Gramatical I June 2014 Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. Authors: Geraldine Lara Valeria Pérez Director: Horacio Miranda
  • 2. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 2 Table of contents. 1 Introduction..........................................................................................................3 2 Theoretical background......................................................................................4 2.1 Chomsky........................................................................................................4 2.2 Generative grammar......................................................................................4 2.3 Innate theory..................................................................................................6 3 Body......................................................................................................................7 3.1 Communication and Language......................................................................7 3.2 Universal Grammar (UG)...............................................................................8 3.3 Language Acquisition Device (LAD)............................................................12 3.4 Chomsky’s review of Skinner’s verbal behaviour........................................13 4 Summary...........................................................................................................15 5 Activities...........................................................................................................16 6 Conclusions.....................................................................................................18 7 References........................................................................................................19
  • 3. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 3 1. Introduction. This paper will delve into the issues of Universal Grammar (UG) and Language Acquisition Device (LAD) presented by the great Noam Chomsky. It is important to be able to understand every one of the points that are developed in here. For this reason basic concepts are defined in order to clarify what we are talking about. The aim of this is to present data collected through intensive research, with some examples and quotes from the same author of these theories and others. For which purpose, the information is presented in a way that facilitates the understanding for those who have never heard about these issues. Also, activities for eventually developing in a classroom are attached at the end of this paper.
  • 4. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 4 2. Theoretical Background. 2.1 Noam Chomsky. Avram Noam Chomsky had born on December 7, 1928. He is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, political commentator and activist who is commonly consider “Father of modern linguistics.” Besides his work in linguistics, Chomsky is internationally recognized as one of the most critically engaged public intellectuals alive today. Chomsky is a prolific author whose principal linguistic works after Syntactic Structures (1957) include Current Issues in Linguistic Theory (1964), The Sound Pattern of English (with Morris Halle, 1968), Language and Mind (1972), Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar (1972), and Knowledge of Language (1986), among others. (The Noam Chomsky Website) Chomsky is also a very important linguist because he created a revolution. As one linguist remarked: "The extraordinary and traumatic impact of the publication of Syntactic Structures by Noam Chomsky in 1957 can hardly be appreciated by one who did not live through this upheaval" (Maclay, 1971) 2.2 Generative linguistics. It is a school within linguistics whose centre is the "Generative Grammar", which in turn means that innumerable syntactic combinations can be generated by means of a complex series of rules. This term is attributed to Noam Chomsky (1957).
  • 5. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 5 The term "Generative linguistics" is often applied to the version of Chomsky's transformational grammar, in which Chomsky distinguishes two grammatical sentence structures: a surface, linked to the phonetic aspect of these sentences; and a deep structure that rules refers to deep linguistic competence of an individual in a particular language. Those rules transform a sentence with a given grammatical structure into a sentence with a different grammatical structure but the same essential meaning. For example: John saw Mary  Mary was seen by John. The basic ideas of the models included in this school have their origin in the "Standard Theory” (1957–1965) formulated by Noam Chomsky. The common core of all generative models would be trying to design a formal device which allows describing, analyzing and specifying the natural language sentences in a general way. Chomsky built on earlier work of Zellig Harris to formulate the generative theory of language. This set of rules is called Universal Grammar, and for Chomsky describing it is the primary objective of the discipline of linguistics. While formulated as a way to explain how human beings acquire language and the biological constraints on this acquisition. Generative linguistics has two important brunches: Acquisition and Learning, where the first is referred to a subconscious process which is implicit in a natural environment (native speakers) and in the other hand, Learning is referred to a conscious process which is explicit and given in a non natural environment (foreign language). This school is in contrast with the previous one (Structuralism) because the first studies the human capacity to generate an potentially number of sentences with a finite number of elements for subsequently doing the so called performance of the
  • 6. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 6 language. In the other hand, Structuralism studies the form and function with total exclusion of meanings of the language’s phrases. (Searle, 1972) 2.3 Innate theory. The general question asked in this theory is: How one can claim to know something when one does not even know what knowledge is? The answer to this question is Innateness. The claim is that one does not need to know what knowledge is before gaining knowledge, but rather one has a wealth of knowledge before ever gaining any experience. Chomsky formulated something that accounting for the gap between knowledge and experience, a new term that he called “Plato’s problem”. Plato was the first one who thinks in how do knowledge and experience interact so he wrote a dialogue (Meno) in which he theorizes about the relationship between these two concepts and provides and explanation for how it is possible to know something that one has never been taught. Plato believed that we posses innate ideas that precede any knowledge that we gain through experience. Shortly, Chomsky refers to a point in the Meno dialogue when Socrates is talking with an uneducated servant and shows that this one knows the Pythagorean Theorem though he has never been explicitly taught any geometry. How does the servant know without been taught? Plato’s suggestion is that people have innate knowledge.
  • 7. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 7 3. Body. 3.1 Communication and Language. In order to somehow be able to explain and to fully understand the main content of this paper (which will take place below) it is necessary to define basic concepts that are involved: What is communication? What is language? How do these two concepts relate to each other? In an article titles “The faculty of language: what is it, who has it, and how did it evolve?” (2002) Chomsky and others present 3 hypotheses for how language evolved and brought humans to the point where we have a UG: 1. States that the Faculty of Language in the Broad sense is strictly homologous to animal communication. This means that homologous aspects of the Faculty of Language exist in non-human animals. 2. States that the Faculty of Language in the Broad sense is a derived, uniquely human adaptation for language. This hypothesis believes that individual traits were subject to natural selection and came to be very specialized for humans. 3. States that only the Faculty of Language in the narrow sense is unique to humans. It believes that while mechanisms of the faculty of language in the broad sense are present in both humans and non-humans animals, that the computational mechanism of recursion is recently evolved solely in humans. The last one of this three is the hypothesis that most closely aligns to the typical theory of UG championed by Chomsky. In simple words: “Communication” is the meaningful exchange of information between two or more participants (human and non-human) through sounds,
  • 8. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 8 gestures, movements, etc., those things constituent isolated signals to transmit very specific messages. On the other hand, “Language” is the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication. But now, have you ever wondered: Where does language come from? Are we born with it or is a large learning process? How and when we really acquire language? Is it a conscious or subconscious process? 3.2 Universal Grammar (UG). The term Universal Grammar (commonly known as UG) is the name that Noam Chomsky gives, as the very name implies, to those grammatical features that are shared by all derivations of human language. It says that the ability to learn grammar is manifested by itself without being taught. Rather than this aspect of UG being specific to language, it is more generally a part of human cognition because UG determines what abilities are innate and what properties are shared by them. UG proposes that if human beings are brought up under normal conditions (this is not conditions of extreme sensory deprivation), they will always develop language with a certain property X. And if X holds true, then Y occurs. For example: A property X can be distinguishing nouns from verbs or distinguish function words from content words. Also, in the second case, if a language has a word for blue, it will have a word for green.
  • 9. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 9 The idea of UG can be traced back to Roger Bacon’s observations (all languages are built upon a common grammar even though it may undergo accidental variations), the 13th century speculative grammarians (who postulated universal rules underlying all grammars), the 17th century projects for philosophical languages (in which the concept of a UG was at the core), the Scottish school of universal grammarians from the 18th century (that created an article on “Grammar” in the 1st edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica which contains an extensive section titles “Of UG”), with Chomsky and Montague the idea rose to notability in the 1950s to 1970s but in contrast, during the early 20th century, language was usually understood from a behaviourist perspective. (Wikipedia) Also, Universal Grammar involves 3 factors: 1. GENETIC ENDOWMENT: Sets limits on the attainable languages, thereby making language acquisition possible. (Universal grammar in the first theoretical sense). 2. EXTERNAL DATA: Converted to the experience that selects one or another language within a narrow range. (Linguistic data to which the child is exposed). 3. PRINCIPLES NOT SPECIFIC TO FL: FL is the faculty of language, whatever properties of the brain cause it to learn language. (Hariyanto, 2011)
  • 10. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 10 Chomsky's theory proposes that the human brain contains a predefined mechanism (UG) that is the basis for the acquisition of all languages. “In analogy, the brain can be thought of as a kind of partially programmed machine ready to be configured”. (Tronolone) So, Chomsky says that a person individual grammar is developed from the interaction between the innate UG and the input from the environment (primary linguistic data): (McGilvary, 2005) Chomsky has stayed “I think, yet the world thinks in me”. This is an evident example of his theory: humans are natural beings and have undergone evolution (UG) common to all humans. One way to approach this concept is posing a hypothetical question: Why does a child learn the language the way it does? If we come back to Plato’s problem: the problem of finding and explanation for how a child acquires language though the child does not receive explicit instruction and the input a child receives is limited, we will be able to identify a limited environmental stimulus referred to a Poverty of stimulus. This means that natural language grammar is unlearnable given the relatively limited data available to children learning a language, and therefore that this knowledge is supplemented with some sort of innate linguistic capacity. And also humans are born with a specific representational adaptation for language that both funds and limits their competence to acquire specific types of natural languages over the course of their cognitive development and linguistic maturation. The Poverty of stimulus arguments attempts to explain how native speakers form a capacity to identify possible and impossible interpretations through ordinary experience. Essentially, stimulus (from the environment necessary to develop an individual’s grammar via UG) is not an entirely adequate way to explain the process UG + input = Grammar.
  • 11. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 11 of learning. Therefore, human beings must have some form of innate linguistic capacity that provides additional knowledge to language learners. For example: Consider that a child might hear this:  Who do you think that Jack will kiss first?  Who do you think that Jack will kiss first? From this, the child might determine that the word “that” is optional and analogize to the following sentence.  Who so you think that will kiss Jill first?  Who so you think that will kiss Jill first? Clearly, the second example is not grammatically well-formed but How does the child know, without being taught that the ungrammatical example is, in fact, ungrammatical? From the Chomsky’s perspective the answer is that some knowledge pre-exist as part of UG. Speakers in a language know which expressions are acceptable in their own language and which are unacceptable but How speakers come to know these restrictions of their language since expressions that violate those restrictions are not present in the input? Chomsky argued that this Poverty of stimulus means Skinner’s behaviorism perspective is wrong because it cannot explain this. But, in the other hand, UG offers a solution to this problem by making certain restrictions universal characteristics of human languages. A further support for the Chomsky’s UG theory is the presence of Creole Languages not only because are formed and developed when different societies come together and are forced to devise their system of communication to create a new one, but also because Creole Languages makes use of a full grammar. In simple words, the system acquire by the speakers of the new language (Creole) is a subconscious mix of vocabulary which effectively create their own original language.
  • 12. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 12 3.3Language Acquisition Device (LAD). Chomsky asserts that in the brain exists an innate device to acquire languages. This is what he called “Language Acquisition Device”, which allows people learning and using the language almost instinctively; and is essentially identical in all speakers, which is the basis of communicative ability, and also in itself is a brain mechanism present in all humans: this means that language is acquired because humans are biologically programmed to do so, regardless of the degree of difficulty of the language. Chomsky says that children do not need any kind of learning to acquire language, because it is obtained and developed based on each person scheduled mechanism, which begins to develop immediately when exposed to the environment. So, the exposure to the language used in your environment is the only requirement needed to acquire language. Besides the language acquisition device, Chomsky states that children born with the basic structure of language internalized, which is something innate in all humans (Universal Grammar). For Example: A Child of Argentine parents who is born in China would have the same capacities and facilities to acquire Chinese as a mother tongue as any other child with Chinese parents, because the environment facilitates the acquisition of this language. Also is important to say that not because his parents are Argentine means that the child is pre-programmed to learn the language of their parents (Spanish), in fact his brain is not programmed to learn Spanish but any other language of the world. So, it is possible to say that language is not a matter of inherited but rather an innate capacity in every person.
  • 13. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 13 As the same Chomsky said: “We are designed to walk... that we are taught to walk is impossible. And pretty much the same is true of language. Nobody is taught language. In fact, you can’t prevent the child from learning it”. (The Human Language Serie 2, 1994) 3.4Chomsky’s review of Skinner’s Verbal Behaviour. Burrhus Frederic Skinner published a book called “Verbal Behaviour” (1956) in which he analyses the human behaviour, specifically covering language. Based on it, he specifies that language is no more than a behaviour brought under the same variables than any other controllers of an operating behaviour. For him, verbal behaviours can be classified as mand, tact, echoic. Mand is a verbal operant in which the response is reinforced by a characteristic consequence and under the functional control of relevant conditions of deprivation or aversive stimulation. (Jurnal Linguistik Terapan.) In other words, the person will repeat the verbal behaviour. For example: “take it”—if the command or demand is met by other person. The book ''Verbal Behaviour'' is almost theoretically complete, involving little experimental research in the work itself. In response to this book, Noam Chomsky published an article called “A review of B. F. Skinner's Verbal Behaviour'' (1959). Chomsky reviews were and are more popular and more known than the Skinner's book, who never answered the criticisms of Chomsky. In this article Chomsky wanted to prove that behaviourism was wrong in explaining the emergence, acquisition and development of language. Behavioural strategy, therefore, was an inadequate and a wrong way to understand everything about the human language.
  • 14. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 14 The central part of this review says that the circumstances in which the Skinner's experiments were realized could easily take the animals to achieve what is wanted from them (in the laboratory), losing credibility because under normal circumstances and, in contrast, daily life the answers could be totally different, besides saying that Skinner used experiments as scientific evidence to explain the language but the experiments were performed on animals and not on humans beings who are those that possess language: [Skinner]...utilizes the experimental results as evidence for the scientific character of his system of behaviour and analogical guesses (formulated in terms of a metaphoric extension of the technical vocabulary of the laboratory) as evidence for its scope. This creates the illusion of a rigorous scientific theory with a very broad scope although, in fact, the terms used in the description of real-life and of laboratory behaviour may be mere homonyms with at most a vague similarity of meaning. To substantiate this evaluation, a critical account of his book must show that with a literal reading (where the terms of the descriptive system have something like the technical meanings given in Skinner's definition) the book covers almost no aspect of linguistic behaviour, and that with a metaphoric reading, it is no more scientific than the traditional approaches to this subject matter, and rarely as clear and careful. (Chomsky N. , 1959) Besides, Behaviourist perspective suggests that language learning could be explained by a succession of trials, errors, and rewards for success like any other kind of learning. That is to say children learn their mother tongue by simple imitation, listening and repeating what adults said. (Tool Module: Chomsky’s Universal Grammar, 2010) For example: When a child says “apple” and the mother will smile and give him some apple as a result, the child will find this outcome rewarding, enhancing the child’s language development.
  • 15. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 15 4. Summary. To help the understanding of this research, we create a diagram and a brief explanation, which summarizes all the information presented above.  The aim of linguistic theory is to describe the initial state of this faculty and how it changes with exposure to linguistic data. Chomsky (1981) characterizes the initial state of the language faculty as a set of principles and parameters.  LAD consists in setting these open parameter values on the basis of linguistic data available to a child.  The initial state of the system is a UG.  Grammar constitutes the knowledge of particular languages that result when parametric values are fixed. Noam Chomsky Generative Linguistics Learning Tree structure diagrams Deep structure Surface structure Acquisition Innate theory UG Poverty of stimulus Creole Language LAD Plato's problem Skinner's Verbal Behaviourist≠
  • 16. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 16 5. Activities. 1. Do as requested: 1.1 Fill in the gaps with the correct word. A. Noam Chomsky is an ____________, ____________, ____________, etc. B. Behaviourist theory was proposed by ____________. C. Innate theory was proposed by ____________. D. _____________ is the human capacity for communication. E. Chomsky is the _____________ of modern linguistics. F. _________________________ is the grammatical features that are shared by all derivations of human language. 1.2. State if the following sentences are true (T) or false (F). A. ( ) The Language acquisition device is innate in people, animals and plants. B. ( ) Chomsky was agreeing with Skinner's theory. C. ( ) Verbal Behaviour was published in 1956. D. ( ) Universal grammar stipulates that it is necessary a stimulus and a response, among others. E. ( ) Chomsky distinguishes two grammatical sentence structures (surface and deep structures). F. ( ) Structuralism is the school to which Chomsky belongs. American linguist – Skinner – Philosopher – Language – Chomsky – Cognitive scientist – Father – Universal Grammar.
  • 17. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 17 2. To really understand the difference between Skinner's model and Chomsky's model, the following activities will be performed: 2.1 Repeat after the exponents: (Skinner: Repetition) . Amor (Love):  Eu te amo. (I love you)  Você me ama. (You love me)  Nós amamos. (We love each other) 2.2 Make a phrase as the used in number 1, with the following words: (Chomsky: Innate capacity) Example: Eu te odeio.  Odeio: (hate) . I hate you  __________________________________________________ You hate me  _______________________________________________ We hate each other  __________________________________________  Adoro (adore) . I adore you ________________________________________________ You adore me ______________________________________________ We adore each other __________________________________________
  • 18. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 18 6. Conclusions. At the end of this paper it can be concluded that the theories of Noam Chomsky are very useful in this days because they allow us to understand many questions about how different languages are learned and how these interact between themselves. In our personal opinion, we believe that Chomsky is right when he talks about the innate ability we all have to learn whatever language is in front of any of us but we also consider necessary the intervention of the environment in order to achieve an adequate language development. For example: if we compare a person who knows English versus a person who also knows English but it has never been implemented because this person has not interacted with other person who speaks the same language, eventually we will find different results considering the degree of the language evolution that has taken place over the years. For this reason, we also think that it is necessary to include a part of Skinner's theory in terms of acquire and develop a language, because we believe that is necessary to have someone who teach you how to speak and make repetitions to be able to understand and learn, despite we have in our brains the LAD. Furthermore we think that with a little of these two theories we can understand this complex thing called language acquisition. To clarify this aim we create a diagram: Skinner Behaviourist Chomsky Innate capacity
  • 19. Universal Grammar and Language Acquisition Device. 19 7. References. Chomsky, N. (1959). A review of B. F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior. Chomsky, N. (1957). Syntactic Structures. Chomsky, N. (1994). The Human Language Serie 2. Chomsky, N., D. Hauser, M., & S. Fitch, W. (2002). The faculty of language: what is it, who has it, and how did it evolve? SCIENCE'S COMPASS . Cruse, D. (n.d.). Chomsky and the Universal Grammar. Hariyanto, S. (2011). SLA MAJOR THEORETICAL VIEWS: Putting the Jigsaw Pieces Together. Jurnal Linguistik Terapan. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://jlt-polinema.org/?tag=innatist Maclay, H. (1971). Overview. McGilvary, J. (2005). The Cambridge Companion to Chomsky. Searle, J. R. (1972). Chomsky's Revolution in Linguistics. The Noam Chomsky Website. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.chomsky.info/index.htm Tool Module: Chomsky’s Universal Grammar. (2010). Retrieved from http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/capsules/outil_rouge06.html Tronolone, C. (n.d.). Quine: terms in translation. Wikipedia, T. F. (n.d.). Universal Grammar. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_grammar#History Wilson, A. (n.d.). Poverty of Stimulus and Ecological Laws. Retrieved from http://psychsciencenotes.blogspot.com/2010/03/poverty-of-stimulus-and- ecological-laws.html