Universal grammar  

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Chomsky argued that the human brain contains a limited set of constraints for organizing language. This implies in turn that all languages have a common structural basis: the set of rules known as "universal grammar". Speakers proficient in a language know which expressions are acceptable in their language and which are unacceptable. The key puzzle is how speakers come to know these restrictions of their language, since expressions that violate those restrictions are not present in the input, indicated as such. Chomsky argued that this poverty of stimulus means B. F. Skinner's behaviourist perspective cannot explain language acquisition. The absence of negative evidence—evidence that an expression is part of a class of ungrammatical sentences in one's language—is the core of his argument.

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Universal grammar (UG) is a theory in linguistics, usually credited to Noam Chomsky, proposing that the ability to learn grammar is hard-wired into the brain. It is sometimes known as "mental grammar", and stands opposed to other "grammars", e.g. prescriptive, descriptive and pedagogical. The theory suggests that linguistic ability becomes manifest without being taught (see the poverty of the stimulus argument), and that there are properties that all natural human languages share. It is a matter of observation and experimentation to determine precisely what abilities are innate and what properties are shared by all languages.

History

The idea of a universal grammar can be traced back to Roger Bacon's observations in his (c. 1245) Overview of Grammar and (1268) Greek Grammar that all languages are built upon a common grammar, even though it may undergo incidental variations; and the 13th century speculative grammarians who, following Bacon, postulated universal rules underlying all grammars. The concept of a universal grammar or language was at the core of the 17th century projects for philosophical languages. There is a Scottish school of universal grammarians from the 18th century, as distinguished from the philosophical language project, which included authors such as James Beattie, Hugh Blair, James Burnett, James Harris, and Adam Smith. The article on grammar in the first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (1771) contains an extensive section titled "Of Universal Grammar".

The idea rose to prominence and influence, in modern linguistics with theories from Chomsky and Montague in the 1950s-1970s, as part of the "linguistics wars".

During the early 20th century, in contrast, language was usually understood from a behaviourist perspective, suggesting that language acquisition, like any other kind of learning, could be explained by a succession of trials, errors, and rewards for success. In other words, children learned their mother tongue by simple imitation, through listening and repeating what adults said. For example, when a child says "milk" and the mother will smile and give her some as a result, the child will find this outcome rewarding, thus enhancing the child's language development.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Universal grammar" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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