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Why and how the problem of the evolution of Universal Grammar (UG) is hard

Why and how the problem of the evolution of Universal Grammar (UG) is hard
Why and how the problem of the evolution of Universal Grammar (UG) is hard
Universal Grammar (UG) is a complicated set of grammatical rules that underlies our grammatical capacity. We all follow the rules of UG, but we were never taught them, and we could not have learned them from trial and error experience either (not enough data, or time). So UG must be inborn. But for similar reasons, it seems implausible that UG was “learned” by trial and error evolution either: What was the variation and competition? And what were UG’s adaptive advantages? So this leaves the hard problem of explaining where our brain’s UG capacity came from. Christiansen & Chater (C&C) suggest an answer: Language is an organism, like us, and our brains were not selected for UG capacity; rather, languages were selected for learnability with minimal trial and error experience by our brains. This explanation is circular: Where did our brains’ selective capacity to learn all and only UG-compliant languages come from? Chomsky suggests it might be a combination of optimality and logical necessity.
language, evolution, poverty of the stimulus, universal grammar, chomsky
0140-525X
524-526
Harnad, Stevan
442ee520-71a1-4283-8e01-106693487d8b
Harnad, Stevan
442ee520-71a1-4283-8e01-106693487d8b

Harnad, Stevan (2008) Why and how the problem of the evolution of Universal Grammar (UG) is hard Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31, (5), pp. 524-526.

Record type: Article

Abstract

Universal Grammar (UG) is a complicated set of grammatical rules that underlies our grammatical capacity. We all follow the rules of UG, but we were never taught them, and we could not have learned them from trial and error experience either (not enough data, or time). So UG must be inborn. But for similar reasons, it seems implausible that UG was “learned” by trial and error evolution either: What was the variation and competition? And what were UG’s adaptive advantages? So this leaves the hard problem of explaining where our brain’s UG capacity came from. Christiansen & Chater (C&C) suggest an answer: Language is an organism, like us, and our brains were not selected for UG capacity; rather, languages were selected for learnability with minimal trial and error experience by our brains. This explanation is circular: Where did our brains’ selective capacity to learn all and only UG-compliant languages come from? Chomsky suggests it might be a combination of optimality and logical necessity.

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More information

Published date: October 2008
Additional Information: This includes both the full, longer version and the shorter published version Commentary On: Christiansen, Morten H. and Chater, Nick (2008) "Language as Shaped by the Brain" Behavioral and Brain Sciences (forthcoming)
Keywords: language, evolution, poverty of the stimulus, universal grammar, chomsky
Organisations: Web & Internet Science

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 265618
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/265618
ISSN: 0140-525X
PURE UUID: 0f26d46a-6f96-4a1c-bcd7-b0ec632994ed

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Date deposited: 27 Apr 2008 16:42
Last modified: 05 Oct 2017 06:35

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Author: Stevan Harnad

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