Steven Pinker: Language Leamability and Language Development
“The research reported in this book grew out of the disillusionment that accompanies a graduate student’s transition from consumer to producer of ideas. Like many undergraduates, I was intrigued by the debate over the innateness of language and excited about the prospect that the study of language acquisition could shed light on that issue.
But when I began to attend seminars and read the literature on language acquisition as a first-year graduate student in cognitive psychology at Harvard in 1976, I discovered that that prospect was more remote than the textbooks had promised.
First, the field appeared to be afflicted with the syndrome endemic to psychology whereby empirical phenomena originally examined in order to learn about an important theoretical issue take on a life of their own and become the subject of intensive study with little regard for their relevance to the original issue.
Second, although there was no shortage of controversy over issues such as species-specificity or the respective role of the environment versus the learner, it was clear that few of the debaters possessed the means of settling or even clarifying the debate.
Most of the arguments were of the form “you can/can’t learn a language without X,” but it was clear that no one had the vaguest notion about what sorts of mental mechanisms or input information were or were not necessary for language acquisition to proceed. There were virtually no explicit theories about the process by which the child succeeds at learning the rules of his or her community’s language, and hence no basis for claims about what would or would not work in language acquisition.
This was in stark contrast to other areas of cognitive science, where explicit or formal models had often allowed debates to focus on the relative merits of specific mechanisms.”
Language Learnability and Language Development Revisited XV
- The Acquisition Theory: Assumptions and Postulates
- Phrase Structure Rules
- Phrase Structure Rules: Developmental Considerations
- Complementation and Control
- Lexical Entries and Lexical Rules