Re: Universal Grammar

From: Hedges, Joanne (
Date: Fri May 24 1996 - 15:32:59 BST


Universal Grammar (U.G) was proposed by Chomsky, to explain how
children acquire language, which is a complex task, at such a early age
and with such speed and effciency. To learn a language, any language as
the term "universal" suggests, this theory is used to explain language
acquisition in general, it's not language specific, it would take a
lifetime to learn all the rules and different possible ways words can
be used, so making language an inefficient way of communicating,
therefore evolutionary would not have stood the test of time.
However, language is perhaps one of the things that make us human, and
is indeed a universal phenomena amongst humans, in its many forms. So,
how does a child, by the age of four, have grammatical rules in place,
which it could not have been possible to learnt through Skinnerian type
conditioning, in that time?

This is where U.G. comes in, it is proposed that U.G. is an innate,
unconscious ability present at birth, a knowledge of grammar. This is
not suggesting that a child does not make grammatical errors, as we all
know, children do, but it seems that they only make irregular type
errors, such as "he holded" instead of "he held", so somehow they have
the ability to accept these rules and apply them. It can be argued, by
people such as Skinner, that these rules are simply learnt through
conditioning, but how can this be so? As the child never hears anyone
make these mistakes, so do not learn them that way, this is the poverty
of the stimulus theory i.e. there is not enough, or indeed any, of this
kind of stimulus to learn from. With U.G. set in place at birth, the
child is able to take on whichever language it is exposed to, as all
languages have common elements and are inter- translatable.

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