The Theory of Universal Grammar ( by Anntina Fyvonnequehz)

Topics: Linguistics, Language acquisition, Universal grammar Pages: 6 (2049 words) Published: November 14, 2011
Title: The Theory of Universal Grammar
( By Anntina Fyvonnequehz)


The Theory of Universal Grammar has been expounded in Lightbown and White (1987, White (1989), and Ellis (1994), among others. It derives from Chomsky's conceptualization of the nature of the linguistic universals that comprise a child's innate linguistic knowledge. According to Chomsky (1976), there is a 'system of principles, conditions, and rules that are elements or properties of all human languages'.

What constitutes knowledge of language?

According to Robert Matthews knowing a language is a matter of knowing the system of rules and principles that is the grammar for that language. To have such knowledge is to have an explicit internal representation of these rules and principles, which speakers use in the course of language production and understanding. Speakers might be said to know the principles and rules of what linguists call universal grammar. That is, they might be said to know “that all human languages have phrase structure and transformational rules, or that the grammar of every language contains the rule S → NP+VP.”

How is knowledge of language “acquired”?
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, it describes language acquisition as a process by which humans acquire the capacity to perceive, produce and use words to understand and communicate. This capacity involves the picking up of diverse capacities including syntax, phonetics, and an extensive vocabulary. This language might be vocal as with speech or manual as in sign. Language acquisition usually refers to first language acquisition, which studies infants' acquisition of their native language, rather than second language acquisition, which deals with acquisition (in both children and adults) of additional languages. The capacity to acquire and use language is a key aspect that distinguishes humans from other organisms. While many forms of animal communication exist, they have a limited range of nonsyntactically structured vocabulary tokens that lack cross cultural variation between groups. Strengths and Weaknesses of Universal Grammar Theory

According to Chomsky, children learn language so efficiently and so fast because they know in advance what languages look like. They were born with a substantial amount of innate knowledge. Children seem to know that language is rule governed. They know that a finite number of principles govern the enormous number of utterance they hear going around them. Children also have an instinctive awareness that languages are hierarchically structured i.e the knowledge that several words can go in the same structural slot as one (Aitchison.1998). A child might say : I like Pippy

I like My Pippy
I like My Old Pippy

However, an innate knowledge that language is rule-governed, that it has a hierarchical structure, that it makes use of structure-dependent operations by no means explains the whole of language acquisition especially second language acquisition. Universal grammar does not attempt to lay out many blanket statements that hold true for every single language on Earth. If it did that, after all, we would expect most languages to be roughly the same. Instead, we find an incredible range of languages. Instead, what a universal grammar seeks to do is to lay out propositions of the form, “If X is true, then Y will be true.” These structures lay out how all languages develop when faced with certain basic principles. Using these structures, students of universal grammar can attempt to state what word order a language might choose, what phonemes will be present, and other foundational traits of the language. Another argument commonly leveled against universal grammar is that the theory itself is not actually falsifiable. Although it claims to be able to predict what new languages will be like, the sample size is small enough that...

References: 1. Matthews, Robert. “Does Linguistic Competence Require Knowledge of Language?” Epistemology of Language. Ed. Alex Barber. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 2003
3. Aitchison, J.(1998) The Articulate Mammal 4th edn, New York: Routledge
8. Krashen, Stephen D. 1988. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language
9 . Krashen, Stephen D. and Tracy D. Terrell. 1988. The Natural Approach. New York:.
10. Cook, V.J. 1988. Chomsky 's Universal Grammar: An Introduction. Oxford: Basil
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