Real talk

Vyvyan Evans, Aeon, Dec 21, 2014
Commentary by Stephen Downes

"For decades," begins this article, "the idea of a language instinct has dominated linguistics. It is simple, powerful and completely wrong." There is no language instinct - yes, we have the capacity to learn a language, but what`s key here is that language is something that is learned, and not the basis for learning. And the arguments against Chomsky`s theory of a universal grammar`should also cause you to doubt theories of learning based on similar ideas (especially, for example, Piaget or Pinker). We learn language the way we learn everything else: by observing examples of language being used, by imitation and practice, and finally, by reflection. And the ability to use language is a type of recognition, no different from recognizing Aunt Lucy, and not some artful manipulation of codes and rules. If this long article doesn't convince you to abandon the innateness-of-language theory, then I don't know what will.

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