Evidence Rebuts Chomsky's Theory of Language Learning

Paul Ibbotson, Michael Tomasello, Scientific American, Sept 10, 2016
Commentary by Stephen Downes

I've never supported Chomsky's theory of language learning. So to me, this is old and unsurprising news: "cognitive scientists and linguists have abandoned Chomsky’s 'universal grammar' theory in droves because of new research examining many different languages." The real mechanisms for language learning are network mechanisms. "Children use various types of thinking that may not be specific to language at all—such as the ability to classify the world into categories (people or objects, for instance) and to understand the relations among things." To my mind (and how I argued in papers like 'Conditional Variability' and 'Why Equi Fails') Chomsky's approach founders on the question of context. This is borne out in the new research. "The contributions from usage-based approaches have shifted the debate in the other direction to how much pragmatics can do for language before speakers need to turn to the rules of syntax."

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