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Posts Tagged ‘universal grammar’

Language Learning - Noam Chomsky

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Noam Chomsky was born in Philadelphia on December 7, 1928 and has been a professor of language for many years. He was able to secure a doctorate degree in 1955 from the University of Pennsylvania. It was at that University that he majored in linguistics.

Chomsky was first introduced to the field of language by his Hebrew father who, too, was a scholar of linguistics.

He is also considered to be a political activists, cognitive scientist, philosopher and reputable author of many books. It was around the 1960’s that people began to describe him as a liberal socialist in the political arena.

He has been credited, however, for having a great impact on the linguistic world and the role that he played in putting emphasis on how people learn a new language.

His theory, which is well known as Chomsky’s Hierarchy, divides prescribed grammar into different classes with more power as they increase. His idea of generative grammar and universal grammar was also part of the divisiveness between Chomsky and other linguist.

His work has also influenced other areas of expertise such as immunology, evolutionary psychology, and research of artificial intelligence as well as language translation that is computerized.

Chomsky approached the study of language in a different light than his other counterparts. His universal grammar theory emphasized the primary principle that there is an inner set of linguistic rules that all humans share. This he called the beginning stages of learning a language.

It was Naom Chomsky that identified the fact that generative grammar of any language, when given certain specific rules, will appropriately calculate the words that will combine to form a sentence grammatically. Those same rules when approached correctly will emphasize the morphology of the sentence.

The earlier version of this theory of Chomsky’s generative grammar was transformational grammar. Of course, the generative grammar receives some criticisms from proponents of cognitive grammar and functional theories.


Chomsky felt that the mind had more to do with linguistics than others give it credit. He prefaces this by giving the example of a child when placed in a linguistic environment is able to have an instinctive capability to adapt to the words that are spoken.

Linguistics - Universal Grammar

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

All humans are born with the ability and drive to learn language. Before we can even walk we start talking. From birth we are listening with intent, ready to learn our native tongue. Evolution has seen to it that we have an aptitude for language learning, but just how much of our abilities are we born with and how much to we acquire as we go along?

When we learn languages, we use the knowledge and skills acquired from the language we already know to understand this new language. That is, we take the rules of language, such as the use of verbs and adjective, sentence structure and syntax, and apply them to the new language. While these rules will always change and vary between languages there are some structures between languages that remain the same. This is known as universal grammar. Items than can be considered a part of universal grammar include tense, aspect and mood.

There are some rules that when applied to one language can be applied to practically any language. For instance, if a language has a name for the color red, it will have a word for the color purple. These rules do not always apply to every single language, which makes the theory of universal grammar difficult for linguists to prove. Universal Grammar forms part of the nature vs. nurture that has had scientists guessing for generations. Are we born destined to grow into a certain person with certain abilities, or do we acquire these characteristics along the way?

Within the field of linguistics there are two theories as to how we learn language as children. The theory of universal grammar was proposed by linguist Noam Chomsky. He believed that a set part of our brain was dedicated to language, and that this part of the brain had a set group of rules which we applied to language. It cannot be changed or altered, we do not learn it we are born with it. These structures appear in every language around the world. The alternative theory is that we are born with no pre-existing knowledge of language, rather it is something that we acquire.