Chomsky1 by prof. nazir malik
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  • 1. Chomsky ’ s Innatism
  • 2. Behaviourist position (Skinner, 1950s)
    • Main behaviourist claim: all learning, including language learning, is the product of habit formation.
    • We learn through imitation and repetition.
    • Emphasis on the importance of the observable in any theory claiming to be scientific (empirical view).
    • Since only behaviour is observable, we must study learning by observing behaviour patterns.
  • 3. Behaviourist position
    • We learn through:
    • Imitation + reinforcement (praise or success in communication) = habit formation .
    • According to this view Stimulus-Response-Reinforcement IS the learning mechanism.
    • Language is considered ‘ verbal behaviour ’ .
    • Children practise and repeat what they hear, and in this way learn their L1.
  • 4. Who is Chomsky?
    • You ’ ve probably heard of him already
    • Noam Chomsky, 1928-present, American
      • Professor in Linguistics at MIT
      • (more famous outside our field as a political commentator)
    • Chomsky is a syntactician
    • His work on syntax led him to believe language is innate
    • Chomsky is a theorist, not an experimenter
      • But others have applied his theories
  • 5. What is Chomsky ’ s theory?
    • An innatist theory
    • “ Nature” over “Nurture”
    • According to Chomsky, crucial parts of the human language ability are built into the brain – part of our biology, programmed into our genes
  • 6. Chomsky V Skinner
    • Remember Skinner?
    • Late 1950s: environment-only theories of language acquisition in the ascendant
    • Chomsky (1959) reviewed Skinner ’ s book Verbal Behaviour
    • Chomsky found flaws in Skinner ’ s mechanism
    • Chomsky argued that environment-only mechanisms couldn ’ t possibly account for language acquisition
  • 7. Evidence for Chomskyan innatism (and against environment-only mechanisms) How so?
  • 8. The brain: missing evidence?
    • Neuroscience could be convincing …
    • … but our knowledge of the brain is not that advanced.
    • We cannot see the proposed language structures
    • Even if we could, we could not establish that these structures were innate
  • 9. Creativity
    • Language is CREATIVE
      • We can produce and understand an infinite range of novel grammatical sentences
      • Children do not imitate a fixed repertoire of sentences
    • Chomsky: creativity is not explicable if language is learnt just from the environment
  • 10. Degeneracy of the data
    • The child ’ s language data is degenerate
    • Ungrammatical utterances are frequent and are not marked out as “wrong”
    • Therefore it is impossible to deduce the grammar of a language, if your only input data is utterances from the environment
  • 11. Poverty of the stimulus
    • Chomskyan syntax: more complex than people had previously thought syntax to be!
    • The grammar of a sentence can ’ t be deduced from its surface form
      • The schoolchildren were difficult to teach
      • The schoolchildren were eager to learn
    • So environmental language data is insufficient: grammar can ’ t be learned from it
  • 12. Misleading feedback
    • Adults correct children for truth, not grammaticality
    • … so the feedback data children receive does not actually tell them how well they are doing
    • Misleading feedback makes it even harder for children to learn grammar
  • 13. Evidence from Creoles
    • Pidgin: simple language that arise in contact situations
    • Creole: a fully complex language descended from a pidgin
    • The grammar of a Creole is created by children as they learn it
    • This is evidence that this grammar comes from some innate source
  • 14. Universal features of language
    • Languages vary greatly, but have some common features
    • Example: nouns and verbs
    • Example: structure dependency
      • Grammatical rules rely on the structure of the sentence, not the surface order of the words
  • 15. Structure dependency
    • Mr Smith was a good man
    • Was Mr Smith a good man?
    • Mr Smith was a good man
    • Man good a was Smith Mr?
    • Joe was a good man
    • A Joe was good man?
  • 16. Universals explained
    • Universals unexpected if language is learnt from the environment alone
    • Universals due to innate language
    • Or due to something else?
      • Universal functions of language
      • Universal forms of cognition
  • 17. The theory: innate language knowledge
    • If children don ’ t/can ’ t learn the rules of grammar from the language around them in their environment …
    • … then these rules must have been in-born
    • This explains all the difficulties we found with environment-only acquisition theories
  • 18. Key points of Chomskyan Theory The Essentials
  • 19. Innatism
    • What is innate?
    • Chomsky: the essential core of grammar is innate
    • A generative grammar that can produce an infinite range of novel sentences
    • The innate system for language learning
      • Language Acquisition Device (LAD)
      • Universal Grammar (UG)
      • “ bioprogram ”
      • “ language organ ”
      • “ language instinct ”
  • 20. Inside the Chomskyan brain Autonomy
  • 21. Is language autonomous?
    • Chomsky thinks that language is autonomous in the mind
    • This means that language (i.e. UG) is a separate system in the brain ’ s architecture
    • It is connected to, but does not interact extensively with, other sorts of thought
  • 22. (The diagram)
  • 23. Maturation
    • Chomsky ’ s theory is a maturationist theory
    • Language acquisition runs to an innate biological timetable
    • UG matures in the brain and is slowly released in predetermined stages as the child grows
    • This linguistic maturation is analogous to the sexual maturation we go through at puberty …
    • … and is just as involuntary!
      • Only the younger ones were at the right stage of maturation
  • 24. Language is species-specific
    • UG and the language system only occur in the human brain
    • Therefore, no other animals can acquire a human language
    • But is this solely due to their lesser intelligence?
    • Can chimps learn language? We ’ ll look at this next term!
  • 25. Evolution??
    • How did UG get there in the first place?
    • There is much disagreement on this
      • Chomsky: not by natural selection!
      • Chomsky, Bickerton: a single lucky language mutation (a “ Hopeful Monster ” )
      • Pinker: by normal natural selection
  • 26. Universal Grammar
    • But what exactly is Universal Grammar?
    • What knowledge does it contain?
    • How does it function in the process of language acquisition?
    … we ’ ll try to find out next time