08 December 2014

There Is No Language Instinct

Vyvyan Evans -- Professor of Linguistics at Bangor University in Wales, UK and author of The Language Myth: Why Language Is Not an Instinct (2014) -- summarised his main thesis for Aeon magazine in an article entitled Real talk (with the lead-in: For decades, the idea of a language instinct has dominated linguistics. It is simple, powerful and completely wrong.) This, in turn, was further summarised by The Browser under the heading There Is No Language Instinct as follows:
Nor a language organ. Nor, probably, a universal grammar anchoring all human languages. Chomsky’s conjectures were brilliant but wrong. Children learn language, as they do many other things, by trial and error. “Children have far more sophisticated learning capacities than Chomsky foresaw”. At the age of nine months, most children are already hard at work decoding what the adults around them are trying to say (4,200 words).
Excellent read. Highly recommended... unless of course you prefer the full thesis in Evans' latest book.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for a very interesting article, but the Comments that follow it in Aeon are also a must. They certainly show there are two sides. For Chomsky's MIT students, his version of transformational grammar was 'God-given' in the 1960s. A friend of mine had to leave MIT because he didn't agree. I'd like to hear Chomsky today. He's very articulate, and that's certainly one reason he was so influential.

    What interests ME is first that human individuals developed the ability to learn and use MULTIPLE languages from early childhood; and secondly that they developed the ability, from about 3 years old, to keep them separate and TRANSLATE between them. How? That's more than just learning language.


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