Universal Grammar in Second-Language Acquisition: A History

Universal Grammar and the Second Language Classroom
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The idea of a universal grammar can be traced back to Roger Bacon 's observations in his c. 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 idea rose to prominence and influence, in modern linguistics with theories from Chomsky and Montague in the s—s, 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. 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.

According to Berwick and Chomsky, the Strong Minimalist Thesis states that "The optimal situation would be that UG reduces to the simplest computational principles which operate in accord with conditions of computational efficiency. This conjecture is Call this operation Merge. SMT dictates that "Merge will be as simple as possible: it will not modify X or Y or impose any arrangement on them; in particular, it will leave them unordered, an important fact 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 that 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 a given language—is the core of his argument. Such expressions are not available to language learners: they are, by hypothesis, ungrammatical. Speakers of the local language do not use them, or note them as unacceptable to language learners. Universal grammar offers an explanation for the presence of the poverty of the stimulus, by making certain restrictions into universal characteristics of human languages. Language learners are consequently never tempted to generalize in an illicit fashion.

The presence of creole languages is sometimes cited as further support for this theory, especially by Bickerton's controversial language bioprogram theory. Creoles are languages that develop and form when disparate societies come together and are forced to devise a new system of communication. The system used by the original speakers is typically an inconsistent mix of vocabulary items, known as a pidgin. As these speakers' children begin to acquire their first language, they use the pidgin input to effectively create their own original language, known as a creole.

Unlike pidgins, creoles have native speakers those with acquisition from early childhood and make use of a full, systematic grammar. According to Bickerton, the idea of universal grammar is supported by creole languages because certain features are shared by virtually all in the category. For example, their default point of reference in time expressed by bare verb stems is not the present moment, but the past.

Using pre-verbal auxiliaries , they uniformly express tense , aspect , and mood. Negative concord occurs, but it affects the verbal subject as opposed to the object, as it does in languages like Spanish. Another similarity among creoles can be seen in the fact that questions are created simply by changing the intonation of a declarative sentence, not its word order or content.

However, extensive work by Carla Hudson-Kam and Elissa Newport suggests that creole languages may not support a universal grammar at all. In a series of experiments, Hudson-Kam and Newport looked at how children and adults learn artificial grammars. They found that children tend to ignore minor variations in the input when those variations are infrequent, and reproduce only the most frequent forms.

In doing so, they tend to standardize the language that they hear around them.

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Hudson-Kam and Newport hypothesize that in a pidgin-development situation and in the real-life situation of a deaf child whose parents are or were disfluent signers , children systematize the language they hear, based on the probability and frequency of forms, and not that which has been suggested on the basis of a universal grammar. Many researchers of universal grammar argue against a concept of relexification , which says that a language replaces its lexicon almost entirely with that of another.

This goes against universalist ideas of a universal grammar, which has an innate grammar.

Table of contents

ykoketomel.ml: Universal Grammar in Second-Language Acquisition (Routledge Studies in the History of Linguistics) (): Margaret Thomas. THE THEORY OF UNIVERSAL GRAMMAR AND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION . language such as English contains elements that are derived from its history (the .

Geoffrey Sampson maintains that universal grammar theories are not falsifiable and are therefore pseudoscientific. He argues that the grammatical "rules" linguists posit are simply post-hoc observations about existing languages, rather than predictions about what is possible in a language. In keeping with these points, James Hurford argues that the postulate of a language acquisition device LAD essentially amounts to the trivial claim that languages are learnt by humans, and thus, that the LAD is less a theory than an explanandum looking for theories. Morten H. Christiansen and Nick Chater have argued that the relatively fast-changing nature of language would prevent the slower-changing genetic structures from ever catching up, undermining the possibility of a genetically hard-wired universal grammar.

Instead of an innate universal grammar, they claim, "apparently arbitrary aspects of linguistic structure may result from general learning and processing biases deriving from the structure of thought processes, perceptuo-motor factors, cognitive limitations, and pragmatics". In addition, it has been suggested that people learn about probabilistic patterns of word distributions in their language, rather than hard and fast rules see Distributional hypothesis.

Language acquisition researcher Michael Ramscar has suggested that when children erroneously expect an ungrammatical form that then never occurs, the repeated failure of expectation serves as a form of implicit negative feedback that allows them to correct their errors over time such as how children correct grammar generalizations like goed to went through repetitive failure.

This research has been led by Daniel Everett. Among other things, this language is alleged to lack all evidence for recursion , including embedded clauses , as well as quantifiers and colour terms. Daniel Everett has gone as far as claiming that universal grammar does not exist. In his words, "universal grammar doesn't seem to work, there doesn't seem to be much evidence for [it].

And what can we put in its place? A complex interplay of factors, of which culture, the values human beings share, plays a major role in structuring the way that we talk and the things that we talk about. And universals in the grammatical structure of different languages have come from more general processes and constraints of human cognition, communication, and vocal-auditory processing, operating during the conventionalization and transmission of the particular grammatical constructions of particular linguistic communities.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Further information: Language acquisition device , Generative grammar , X-bar theory , Government and binding , Principles and parameters , and Minimalist program. Applicative universal grammar Broca's area Generative grammar Linguistic universal Native language Optimality theory Origin of language Principles and parameters Psychological nativism Universal characteristic Universal Networking Language.

Retrieved Macmillan Education. Word of Mouth. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 24 December Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Archived PDF from the original on 27 July Chomsky's Minimalism and the View from Syntax-Semantics. Studies in Generative Grammar.

Table of contents

Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Baker The Handbook of Linguistics. Why Only Us? MIT Press.


Page Cognitive Psychology. Scientific American. Retrieved June 10, Bloomsbury Academic.

Edited by Ian Roberts

European Journal of Literature and Linguistics. Hurford Roca ed. Logical Issues in Language Acquisition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences , It is presupposed that there is an innately given Universal Grammar UG , which constrains first language L1 grammars, placing limits on the kinds of hypotheses that L1 acquirers entertain as to the nature of the language that they are acquiring.

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Assuming the correctness of this general approach, the question arises as to whether UG constrains grammars in non-primary language acquisition as well. This book will present and discuss research which investigates whether or not interlanguage grammars can be characterized in terms of principles and parameters of UG, and which explores the nature of interlanguage competence during the course of L2 acquisition, from the initial state onwards.

It is hoped that the book will provide sufficient background for the reader to understand current research conducted within the framework of UG and L2 acquisition. The generative perspective on L2 acquisition is sometimes dismissed because it has a rather circumscribed goal, namely to describe and explain the nature of interlanguage competence, defined in a technical and limited sense.

Researchers whose work is discussed in this book do not seek to provide an all encompassing theory of L2 acquisition, or to account the role of performance factors, psychological processes and mechanisms, sociolinguistic variables, etc.

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In fact, it is doubtful whether there is any one theory that can achieve all this; certainly, no theory has succeeded so far. It will be presupposed that the reader has some familiarity with the concepts and mechanisms assumed in current generative grammar, including the Government and Binding framework and Minimalism. The book will not be concerned with the precise technical details as to how UG principles and parameters are formulated, nor with the intricacies of current linguistic theory.

Indeed, the intention is to consider the L2 issues without being tied down to a particular version of generative theory.

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The linguistic principles and parameters that will be discussed are those that have attracted attention in the L2 field. Out of context, these principles may sometimes seem ad hoc. It is important to understand that they are part of a system. An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page.

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One year after her escape, her language resembled that of a normal month old child. This critical period between the ages of suggests that first language learning, like walking, is an innate capacity of human beings triggered by a level of development more than feedback from the environment. Speakers of the local language do not utter such expressions and note that they are unacceptable to language learners. You just clipped your first slide! His environment, though different from the LI child's in some respects and subject to greater variation, does not provide him with any way out of the problem of the poverty of the stimulus. Reexamining the acquisition of null subject pronouns in a second language. The effect of construction frequency and native transfer on second language knowledge of the syntax—discourse interface.

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