Language Acquisition/Nature or Nurture/Linguistic Nativism

Language Acquisition
?? Linguistic Nativism Competence and Performance

Linguistic nativism is the idea that language is 'hard-wired' into our brains at birth. The hard-wired knowledge is called Universal Grammar (UG), a grammar common to all languages in the world. This unit introduces you to this idea.

It is often said that UG is like a seed. Obviously, seeds of apple trees are not trees at birth, but given nourishment, such as sunlight and water, they will grow into apple trees. They will not grow into orange trees or pear trees.

UG is the knowledge of language innate to all humans. Everyone, save for those with certain language disorders, possess UG, according to Chomsky. UG morphs into competence, which we will later see. Its distinction from performance is an important part of Chomsky's work, and will be discussed in this chapter.

UG does not claim the existence of a set of rules common to every language, say, that the subject should be the first word of every sentence. This is clearly false, since languages with word orders other than SVO and SOV do exist, uncommon as they are among the major world languages. German, for example, has V2 word order, in which the verb must come second in a sentence, but any other element - subject, object, adjunct - can be placed first. Some linguists, most notably Joseph Greenberg, have attempted to generalise sets of such rules, such as this:

(1) In conditional statements, the conditional clause precedes the conclusion as the normal order in all languages.

This is a linguistic universal, but it is not part of UG. UG does not aim at stating rules. Instead, UG attempts to generalise a set of principles that govern language. We will look into the concept of principles in this unit.

Table of ContentsEdit