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LINGUISTICS AND LANGUAGE LEARNING:
THE UNIVERSAL GRAMMAR APPROACH
Theories in SLA Course (ELT 612)
Faculty of Education
De...
NOAM CHOMSKY
1960S
- If children learn language by
conditioning and imitation, why
do they say things they have
never hear...
INTRODUCTION
The topic concentrates on:
1. The individual theoretical perspectives on SLL in general.
2. Universal Grammar...
DEALING WITH THE TOPIC SUCH QUESTIONS ARE
RAISED:
1. Can language be acquired without an innate
grammar?
2. Does universal...
WHAT EXACTLY IS UG?
Universal grammar is usually defined as the “system of categories,
mechanisms and constraints shared b...
ARGUMENTS FOR UG
Over the years, a number of arguments have been put
forward in support of this hypothesis. These include ...
4. NO NEGATIVE EVIDENCE: Children know which structures are
ungrammatical and do not acquire over general grammars in spit...
Aims of linguistic research:
Linguistic theory is not primarily concerned with SLA.
It aims :
-to describe the mental repr...
WHAT IS A LINGUISTIC THEORY
Universal Grammar is therefore a proper theory as it
explains the underlying linguistic knowle...
According to Noam Chomsky, UG focuses to answer three
basic questions about human language:
1. What constitutes Knowledge ...
1. What constitutes Knowledge of language?
The UG approach claims that all human beings inherit a universal
set of princip...
2. HOW IS KNOWLEDGE OF LANGUAGE ACQUIRED?
Chomsky first resorted to the concept of UG because he
believes that children co...
But from a theoretical point of view many scenarios are
controversy around all these issues which are open to consider:
--...
3. HOW IS KNOWLEDGE OF LANGUAGE PUT TO USE?
UG is concerned with knowledge of language that’s with the
abstract mental rep...
THE ARGUMENTS THAT SUPPORT THE EXISTENCE OF AN INNATE
LANGUAGE FACULTY IN CHILDREN ARE:
Stages are similar
across children...
But this evidence could not conclude by many universalists
because there must be a specific language module in the brain,
...
In 1995 both Smith and Tsimpli studied the case of brain –
damaged man in details as he is unable to look for himself
but ...
To explain why language in children just seems to
“grow” in the same way as teeth develop and start walking?
Aitchon prese...
WHAT DOES UG CONSIST OF?
UG approach claims that there is a universal set of principles
and parameters that control the sh...
CONTINUING:
- A principle of UG is a statement that is true for all human
languages.
For example:
The principle of structu...
- The structure – dependency :
-Asserts that knowledge of language relies on the structural relationship
in the sentence s...
In fact all the languages in the world are structured of phrase
such as NP as the main or central element (the head) of th...
Major aspect of the principle of structure dependency
-Movements in the sentence is not just a matter of recognizing phras...
-- Cook and Newson ( 1996) put it “ Movement in the sentence
is not just a matter of recognizing phrases and then of movin...
Parameters ( Paramedic)
According to White:
-Languages can differ as to which functional categories
are realized in the gr...
Binary Parameters :
- Head first & head last
Head parameters determine the relative positioning of heads
with respect to t...
Governing Category Parameter:
It can be exemplified by the precise relationship between
reflexives and their non-phrase an...
-
-- Inf. In English is weak, while its strong in French.
-- In English verb remains as VP. In French the verb has to
rise...
Hypothesis about Parameters Resetting:
Children in early stages only have access to lexical categories
and lack functional...
Hypothesis 1: No access to UG
- proponents of this hypothesis argue that there is a critical
period for SLA and after pube...
Hypothesis 2: Full access to UG
1. Full access / no transfer: Flynn (1996) claims that there is
no such thing as a critica...
2. Full transfer/ Full access:
Proponents of this hypothesis believe that SLLs have full
access to UG principles and param...
(1996 -98) Minimal trees approach: at initial stages only
lexical categories are projected and functional categories
devel...
A- Universal Grammar - Native language knowledge
-B. Domain- specific learning - General problem-solving systems
-processe...
Research : English learners of Korean speakers failed to
recognize ‘Wh- Movement’ in English as there is no Wh-
movement i...
Impaired functional features: second language grammars
are Universal Grammar- constrained, but that not all
parameter sett...
Criticism of UG Theory:
-Linguistically, this approach is concern only with syntax.
-Semantics, pragmatics and discourse a...
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What is Universal Grammar Theory and its Criticism

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How Noam Chomsky explains his theory and how others show their objections towards

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What is Universal Grammar Theory and its Criticism

  1. 1. LINGUISTICS AND LANGUAGE LEARNING: THE UNIVERSAL GRAMMAR APPROACH Theories in SLA Course (ELT 612) Faculty of Education Department of English Language Teaching Cyprus International University Spring Semester / 2015 Presented by Farhad M. Rajab (20145018)
  2. 2. NOAM CHOMSKY 1960S - If children learn language by conditioning and imitation, why do they say things they have never heard before? - Why make adults completely novel sentences?
  3. 3. INTRODUCTION The topic concentrates on: 1. The individual theoretical perspectives on SLL in general. 2. Universal Grammar by Noam Chomsky and other followers over the last few decades. 3. Arguments from the first language Acquisition. 4. What does UG consist of? 5. Empirical evidence and hypotheses 6. Criticism of UG
  4. 4. DEALING WITH THE TOPIC SUCH QUESTIONS ARE RAISED: 1. Can language be acquired without an innate grammar? 2. Does universality imply innateness ? 3. Is language really uniquely human ? 4. How UG has been applied to the study of language acquisition?
  5. 5. WHAT EXACTLY IS UG? Universal grammar is usually defined as the “system of categories, mechanisms and constraints shared by all human languages and considered to be innate”. These are generally thought to include formal universals (e.g. principles and parameters) as well as substantive universals (e.g. lexical categories and features). Universal grammar is defined by Chomsky as A. “the system of principles, conditions, and rules that are elements or properties of all human languages. . . The essence of human language” (Chomsky, 1978). B. “ an intricate and highly constrained structure” consisting of “various sub- systems of principles” (146).
  6. 6. ARGUMENTS FOR UG Over the years, a number of arguments have been put forward in support of this hypothesis. These include the following: 1. LANGUAGE UNIVERSALS: (All) human languages share certain properties. 2. CONVERGENCE: Children are exposed to different input yet converge on the same grammar. 3. POVERTY OF THE STIMULUS: Children acquire knowledge for which there is no evidence in the input.
  7. 7. 4. NO NEGATIVE EVIDENCE: Children know which structures are ungrammatical and do not acquire over general grammars in spite of the fact that they are not exposed to negative evidence. 5. SPECIES SPECIFICITY: We are the only species that has language. 6. EASE AND SPEED OF CHILD LANGUAGE ACQUISITION: Children learn language quickly and effortlessly, on minimal exposure. 7. UNIFORMITY: All children acquiring language go through the same stages in the same order.
  8. 8. Aims of linguistic research: Linguistic theory is not primarily concerned with SLA. It aims : -to describe the mental representations of language that are stored in the human mind. -- What all human language have in common , and distinctive characteristics that make human language different from other system of communication. -- to specify in what way individual human languages can differ from another. its main goals as defined by Chomsky (1986) are to answer three basic questions about human language: 1. What constitutes Knowledge of language? 2. How is knowledge of language acquired? 3. How is knowledge of language put to use?
  9. 9. WHAT IS A LINGUISTIC THEORY Universal Grammar is therefore a proper theory as it explains the underlying linguistic knowledge in second language learners’ mind. Linguistic Theory Explanatory Adequacy ( Explain why they are that way) Descriptive Adequacy ( to characterize what human languages are like)
  10. 10. According to Noam Chomsky, UG focuses to answer three basic questions about human language: 1. What constitutes Knowledge of language? 2. How is knowledge of language acquired? 3. How is knowledge of language put to use?
  11. 11. 1. What constitutes Knowledge of language? The UG approach claims that all human beings inherit a universal set of principles and parameters that control the shape human languages. It provides a detailed descriptive framework which enables researchers to formulate well-defined hypotheses about the task facing the learner and analyzed in more focused manner. Chomsky proposed principles are unvarying and apply to all natural languages, in contrast, Parameters possess a limited number of open values which characterize differences between languages. But recently he argues that the core of human language is the lexicon which can be characterized as: Lexical Categories and Functional Categories.
  12. 12. 2. HOW IS KNOWLEDGE OF LANGUAGE ACQUIRED? Chomsky first resorted to the concept of UG because he believes that children could not learn their first language so quickly and effortlessly without the help of an innate language faculty to guide them. Children create a mental representation of language which not only goes beyond the input they are exposing but similar to that of other native speakers of the same language variety and this achieves at an age when they have difficulty grasping abstract concepts. Yet language is probably the most abstract piece of knowledge they will ever possess. Moreover, learners of SLA are cognitively mature, therefore, they are resourceful to solve their problems and deal with abstract concepts.
  13. 13. But from a theoretical point of view many scenarios are controversy around all these issues which are open to consider: -- SLA is one example of a natural language so its constrained by UG in the same way as native grammars are. -- UG is impaired or does not constrain SL grammars (impaired) and learners have to resort to general learning mechanisms, that’s grammars do not necessarily conform to the general rules underlying natural human languages. --Others believe that the only principles and parameters instantiated in the learners’ 1st language will be available and that parameter resetting is impossible. -
  14. 14. 3. HOW IS KNOWLEDGE OF LANGUAGE PUT TO USE? UG is concerned with knowledge of language that’s with the abstract mental representation of language and the computational mechanisms associated with it, which all human possess called competence not performance. A complete theory has also to define how we access our knowledge base , and how it relates to a number of sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic variables.
  15. 15. THE ARGUMENTS THAT SUPPORT THE EXISTENCE OF AN INNATE LANGUAGE FACULTY IN CHILDREN ARE: Stages are similar across children but there is a variety in rate Developmental Stages These stages are similar across languages The language of child is rule governed and systematic Processing capacity limits the numbers of rules that apply at any one time Are resistant to correction
  16. 16. But this evidence could not conclude by many universalists because there must be a specific language module in the brain, and child language does not seem to be linked in a clear way to intelligence. Steinberg (1993) states that ‘many famous people including Einstein, are reputed to have been slow to talk’. That means language is not linked to intelligence. In support that language is not linked to intelligence. Bellugi et al. (1993) studied children suffering from Williams’ syndrome, a rare metabolic disorder that causes heart defects, mental retardation and distinctive facial appearance, the results show that these children show dissociation between language development and the kind of supposed cognitive prerequisite that Piaget and others argue that are necessary for language development
  17. 17. In 1995 both Smith and Tsimpli studied the case of brain – damaged man in details as he is unable to look for himself but can read, write, and communicate in any of 15-20 languages. - Another evidence is found just the opposite that children who are cognitively normal but whose language is impaired known as SLI that’s language being deficient in specific ways . Not only language seems to be largely separate from other cognitive aspects but also it separates from other cognitive faculties, for example the injuries in the brain have different symptoms depend on the location of the injury.
  18. 18. To explain why language in children just seems to “grow” in the same way as teeth develop and start walking? Aitchon presents Lenneberg’s criteria called The Biological Foundations of Language as a list of six features: The behavior emerges before its necessary Its appearance is not the result of a conscious decision Direct teaching and intensive practice have relatively little effect There is a regular sequence of ‘milestones’ as the behavior develops its emergence is not triggered by external evidence There may be a critical period for the acquisition of the behavior
  19. 19. WHAT DOES UG CONSIST OF? UG approach claims that there is a universal set of principles and parameters that control the shape of human language. Government and Biding Theory Language Parameters : possess a limited number of open values Principles: unvarying and applicable to all natural languages
  20. 20. CONTINUING: - A principle of UG is a statement that is true for all human languages. For example: The principle of structure dependency. - A parameter must be set according to the requirements of the language being acquired. For example: The null subject parameter.
  21. 21. - The structure – dependency : -Asserts that knowledge of language relies on the structural relationship in the sentence such as words and morphemes rather than on the sequence of words. To understand this sentences consist of phrases structural grouping of words, sentences have phrase structure. -For example: The child drew an elephant. -NP: The child , -VP: drew and elephant , -VP further breaks up into a V: drew and NP: an elephant. -These phrases can also break up into smaller constituents : -NP: The child ……. Det. The , and N: Child -NP: an elephant …. Det. An , and N: elephant.
  22. 22. In fact all the languages in the world are structured of phrase such as NP as the main or central element (the head) of this phrase is a noun or pronoun and sentences are made up of at least a NP or VP which in turn may optionally contain other phrases or even whole sentences. The knowledge that languages are structure-dependent is a crucial aspect of all human languages that has many implications it’s a principle of UG which explains many of the operations we routinely perform in the language. Ex. Your cat is friendly Is your cat friendly We change the basic order of the sentence (SVO) because its not based on the linear order of the sentence but is structure - dependent.
  23. 23. Major aspect of the principle of structure dependency -Movements in the sentence is not just a matter of recognizing phrases and then of moving them around but of moving the right element in the right phrase. -Structure dependency can therefore be put forward as a universal principle of language, so whenever elements of the sentence are moved to form passive, question, or whatever such movement takes account of the structural relationships of the sentence rather than the linear order of the words. All known formal operations in the grammar of English or of any other language are structure-dependent
  24. 24. -- Cook and Newson ( 1996) put it “ Movement in the sentence is not just a matter of recognizing phrases and then of moving the right element in the right phrase: movement depends on the structure of the sentence” --Both lexical and functional categories form part of UG endowment , and do not have to be learnt. The child selects from on the basis of the input, as not all languages will necessary make use of all categories or their features. -According to White ( 2003) 1. languages can differ as to which functional categories are realized in the grammar. ( Japanese lacks the category Det.) 2. Functional category features vary from one language to another. ( French has a gender feature while English does not). 3. Features are varied in strength. Infl features are strong in French and weak in English. -
  25. 25. Parameters ( Paramedic) According to White: -Languages can differ as to which functional categories are realized in the grammar. -For ex. Japanese lacks the category of Det. -The feature of a particular functional category can vary from language to language. -For ex. French has a gender feature while English doesn’t . -Features are said to vary in strength: a feature can be strong in one language and weak in another. -For ex. Inflections are strong in French and weak in English.
  26. 26. Binary Parameters : - Head first & head last Head parameters determine the relative positioning of heads with respect to their complements. Ex. English is a head –first language because the head appears before and Japanese is a head – last language as the complement precedes the head. - From an acquisitioned point of view children equipped with UG do not need to discover that language is structured into phrases and this principle forms a blueprint in mind, so they know that all phrases in the language they are learning are going to be ordered in relation to the head.
  27. 27. Governing Category Parameter: It can be exemplified by the precise relationship between reflexives and their non-phrase antecedents. Ex. Mark wanted Tom to treat himself. Here ( himself) can only refer to Tom, not to Mark as the reflexive must be bound with a local domain in English. In other languages that allow long binding such as Chinese, himself can either refer to Tom or Mark. Paramedics regarding to a functional category inflection features associated with functional categories can be either weak or strong with implications for syntactic properties of that language. ( Fig.3.1 , p.69) (illustrates the parametric variation for a functional category in English and French.)
  28. 28. - -- Inf. In English is weak, while its strong in French. -- In English verb remains as VP. In French the verb has to rise to the I position to pick up tense and agreement within an inflectional phrase. --According to Chomsky, a language is not then a system of rules but a set of specifications for parameters in a variant system of principles of universal grammar.
  29. 29. Hypothesis about Parameters Resetting: Children in early stages only have access to lexical categories and lack functional categories. Some contradictory facts about SLA process: Learners do not seem to produce wild grammars, that is grammar can only be constrained by UG. Does that suggest that only principles of UG are available for them? Learners produce grammar that are not necessarily like either their first or second language. Does that suggest that parameter settings other than those realize in this first and second languages are available to them? Some principles and parameters seem to be unproblematic to reset , other more difficult or even impossible . Why?
  30. 30. Hypothesis 1: No access to UG - proponents of this hypothesis argue that there is a critical period for SLA and after puberty UG is no longer available to SLLs. -A study with immigrant children, age of arrivals, and grammatical properties were examined. -Results: the ones before seven performed native-like while other made more errors. -Opponents: it does not mean that adults grammars are not universal grammar - constrained.
  31. 31. Hypothesis 2: Full access to UG 1. Full access / no transfer: Flynn (1996) claims that there is no such thing as a critical period. UG is accessible at initial stages of learning and parameter setting is done directly to L2 values. L2 acquisition is similar to L1 as learners can acquire principles and parameter settings which do not exist in their L1. Research1: English speakers of Japanese can successfully reset the head direction parameters ( from head-last to head –first) Research 2: Japanese could project subjancency principle Wh-movement in English. (Flynn)
  32. 32. 2. Full transfer/ Full access: Proponents of this hypothesis believe that SLLs have full access to UG principles and parameters whether or not they are present in the learner’s 1st language. In this view, 2nd language learners are thought to transfer all the parameter settings from their first language in an initial stage and revise their hypothesis when 2nd language fails to conform these settings. 3. Full access/ impaired early representations: The supporters of this hypothesis believe that learners can reset parameters to 2nd language values , but initially learners are lacking functional categories.
  33. 33. (1996 -98) Minimal trees approach: at initial stages only lexical categories are projected and functional categories develop later. (1996) Valueless features: both lexical and functional categories are transferred from L1 but functional categories lack values such as tense, agreement and so on. Hypothesis 3: Partial access - No Parameter Resetting : Proponents of this hypothesis claim that learners have only access to UG via their 1st language. They have already set parameters of their 1st language and this the basis for L2. other principles and parameters are not available to them they have to resort other mechanism for different parameter settings.
  34. 34. A- Universal Grammar - Native language knowledge -B. Domain- specific learning - General problem-solving systems -processes -( Bley – Vroman, 1989) Child Language Development Adult Foreign Language Learning
  35. 35. Research : English learners of Korean speakers failed to recognize ‘Wh- Movement’ in English as there is no Wh- movement in Korean so the subjancency principle is presumably not operative. Schatcher accepts that UG may be available for child second language learners, but argues there is a critical period that she calls as ( the window of opportunity) Child second language learners pass through different windows for different modules of the target language.
  36. 36. Impaired functional features: second language grammars are Universal Grammar- constrained, but that not all parameter settings will be available . SLLs will therefore try to accommodate the SL grammar within the settings they already have. Modulated structure building: Hawkins & Chan argue that learners start with minimal trees that are lexical projections . Functional developments develop later. They argue that learners reanalyze the input to make it fit their first language setting. Constructionism: it proposes that L2er uses a coalition of resources to construct 2nd language vocabulary and grammar; UG template, 1st language transfer, primary linguistic data, input and intake, instructional bootstrapping.
  37. 37. Criticism of UG Theory: -Linguistically, this approach is concern only with syntax. -Semantics, pragmatics and discourse are excluded. -UG is concerned exclusively with the developmental linguistic route. Social and psychological variables are ignored. -UG approach is methodological. The theory is preoccupied with modeling of competence, the study of naturalistic performance is not seen as a suitable source to analyze mental representation of language.
  38. 38. Thank you

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