chomsky1 by prof. nazir malik

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  • 1. Chomsky s Innatism

2. Behaviourist position (Skinner, 1950s)

  • Main behaviourist claim:alllearning, 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 asyntactician
  • His work on syntax led him to believe language isinnate
  • Chomsky is a theorist, not an experimenter
    • But others have applied his theories

5. What is Chomsky s theory?

  • Aninnatisttheory
  • Nature over Nurture
  • According to Chomsky, crucial parts of the human language ability are built into the brainpart 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 bookVerbal 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 thestructureof 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?
    • Universalfunctionsof language
    • Universalforms 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 TheoryThe 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 amaturationisttheory
  • Language acquisition runs to an innate biological timetable
  • UG matures in the brain and is slowly released in predetermined stages as the child grows
  • Thislinguisticmaturation is analogous to thesexualmaturation 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 thehumanbrain
  • 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


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