Language and Linguistics

Universal grammar/history/Arguments used

Universal grammar

Universal grammar Universal grammar is the set of principles, rules and conditions that all languages ​​share. This concept constitutes the core of the theory of generative-transformational grammar that proposed to explain the acquisition process and the use of language. According to this influential theory formulated by Chomsky in the late 50s, all human beings naturally acquire any language because they have a universal grammar. Sources: Universal grammar

The universal grammar is a theory language school Transformational and Generative stating that underlie certain principles common to all natural languages . In this theory it is said that these principles are innate within our human condition and goes beyond the notional grammar of Jespersen , from which he is heir.

This theory does not state that all natural languages ​​have the same grammar, or that all humans are “programmed” with a structure that underlies all expressions of human languages, but that there are a number of rules that help children acquire your mother tongue

Those who study universal grammar have the purpose of abstracting generalizations common to different languages, often as follows: “If X is true, then Y occurs.” This study has extended to numerous linguistic disciplines, such as phonology and psycholinguistics . Universal grammar

Two linguists who have had considerable influence in this area, either directly or through the school they have promoted, are Noam Chomsky and Richard Montague .

The argument, said synthetically, is the following: if human beings who grow and develop in normal conditions (that is, not in extreme conditions of any kind), always develop a language with an X property (which could be, for example, distinguish between nouns and verbs, or distinguish functional words and lexical words), then it can be induced that property X is not part of a particular grammar, but is part of the so-called universal grammar.

Universal grammar, in this way, is a powerful concept that is full of repercussions, and not without certain difficulties of definition. In general, it could be said that universal grammar would be the set of grammatical properties that a human brain developed under normal conditions; or, put another way, a property of the human brain that enables it to develop a certain set of grammar rules and contents, provided that its development occurs in non-extreme conditions.

Noam Chomsky himself argued that the human brain contains a limited set of rules to organize its knowledge of language. Therefore, it is possible to think that all languages ​​have a basic common structure, and to that structure Chomsky applied the label of “universal grammar”. Universal grammar


The idea of ​​a universal grammar can be traced back to Roger Bacon ‘s observations in his c.  1245 Overview of grammar and c.  1268 Greek Grammar that all languages ​​are built on a common grammar, even though it may occasionally undergo variations; and the 13th century speculative grammarians who, after Bacon, postulated universal rules underlie all grammars. The concept of a universal grammar or language was 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, that included authors as James Beattie , Hugh Blair , James Burnett , James Harris , and Adam Smith . The article on grammar in the first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (1771) contains an extensive section entitled “Of Universal Grammar”. Universal grammar

The idea gained fame and influence, in modern linguistics with theories of Chomsky and Montague in the 1950s-1970s, as part of the ” linguistic wars “.

During the early 20th century, in contrast, language was usually understood from a behavioral therapist’s perspective, suggesting that language acquisition, like any other form of learning, could be explained by a succession of tests, errors, and rewards for success. In other words, children learned their native language through simple imitation, by listening and repeating what adults said. For example, when a child says “milk” and the mother will smile and give her what as a result the child will find this reward reward, thereby improving the child’s language development. Universal grammar

Chomsky argued that the human brain contains a limited number of limitations for organizing language. This in turn means that all languages ​​have a common structural basis: the set of rules known as “universal grammar”.

Speakers skilled in a language know which expressions are acceptable in their language and which are not acceptable. The key riddle is how the speakers come to know these limitations of their language, since expressions that conflict are not in the input, marked as such. Chomsky stated that this means the poverty of the stimulus that Skinner‘s behaviorist perspective cannot explain language acquisition. The absence of negative evidence-proof that an expression is part of a class of ungrammatical sentences in a certain language-is the core of his argument. For example, in English, an interrogative pronoun as what cannot be related to a predicate within a relative sentence:

* “What did John meet a man who sold?”

Such expressions are not available to language learners: they are, by the hypothesis, ungrammatical. Presidents of the local language do not use it, or note them as unacceptable to language learners. Universal grammar provides an explanation for the presence of the poverty of the stimulus, by making certain limitations in the universal characteristics of human languages. Language learners are therefore never tempted to generalize in an unauthorized way.

 The arguments used to define universal grammar as follows:

  1. Universality of language : all languages ​​have a series of common features between them. All have verbs, nouns, displacement concepts (tenses or structures that indicate time), adjectives and other elements.
  2. Convergence : each child learns language in a certain way, but all have in common the same grammar.
  3. Poverty of stimuli : children acquire knowledge without evidence of how they have acquired it. They only need exposure to language to be able to speak it and intuit the inherent patterns of grammar.
  4. No negative evidence : Children know what structures are not grammatical without acquiring a generalist grammar, despite the fact that they are not exposed to negative evidence. They do not learn language, but acquire it. Universal grammar
  5. Species specificity : Human beings are the only species (until proven otherwise) capable of using complex language to communicate.
  6. Ease and speed of children to acquire language : children learn faster than adults and more easily.
  7. Uniformity : all children acquire language in the same order and in the same way, without distinction of language.
  8. Maturation effects in language : language acquisition is very sensitive to the effects of maturation of people and environmental factors. All children acquire fast language, but not at the same speed as several factors influence them.
  9. Dissociation between language and cognition : some people have normal language and impaired cognition and other people have impaired language and normal language.
  10. Neurological separation : each part of the brain has its own function. This means that the brain is lateralized. There are at least two brain areas ( Drill Area and Wernicke Area ) very important in the development and acquisition of language. Apparently they are prepared to allow any human to learn any language, with the right stimulus. Universal grammar

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