Children learn from their parents
- “the English language, and other languages, are institutions like country dancing or the game of
cricket: cultural creations that individuals may learn during their lifetimes, if they happen to be
born into the appropriate cultures, but to which no one is innately predisposed.”
- “(…) specially designed to do this”
o Humans are born with brain system dedicated to solving problem of language
Language Acquisition Device (LAD)
Key Differences between views
o Learning device that is uniquely human, and uniquely dedicated to language acquisition
o Knowledge of language that is available without any experience
o Leanring driven via “operant conditioning”
Child says a sentence that is grammatical and/or appropriate to a situation, child
Child says a sentence that is not grammatical and/or inappropriate, child is
given negative feedback
o Operant conditioning not uniquely human: rats can do it
o No knowledge without experience: only get knowledge by imitating/interacting with
Testing between views
- Is the acquisition of capacity to form sentences(syntax) uniquely human?
- Is there a piece of our brain that is dedicated to learning syntax and nothing else?
- Are there universals in language acquisition?
- Do children simply reproduce what they hear?
- Is experience necessary to acquire syntax
Is syntax uniquely human?
- Battle of the apes
o Apes are quite good at learning words (might they have the same biases we have?)
o But there are few convincing examples of their learning a system where words are
combined to express relations between meanings o Most of the apes did not actually learn language, they simply imitated the actions of the
researchers (chimps are very good at imitating)
Not clear that chimps can make their own sentences
o What is clear though, they are able to learn symbols
o Easier for humans to get a syntax language than apes
o Chimps have great manual dexterity