Prepare By M. Noaman Akbar
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Nargis
GREEN BERG UNIVERSAL
Chomsky’s Universal Grammar
• Noam Chomsky is well known on two fronts, as a
philosopher and as a social thinker. He is justifiably
famous today for his efforts to combat social injustice,
which has led him to present a radical critique of the
institutions of power in modern society. His fame initially
arose, however, from his work as a linguistic philosopher
and his still controversial suggestion that the human brain
is somehow equipped at birth with a Universal Grammar out
of which all human languages later develop.
• Universal grammar (UG) is a theory in linguistics, usually credited
to Noam Chomsky, proposing that the ability to
learn grammar is hard-wired into the brain.It is sometimes known as
mental grammar, and as opposed to other 'grammars', e.g.
prescriptive, descriptive and pedagogical.The theory suggests that
linguistic ability manifests itself without being taught (see the poverty
of the stimulus argument), and that there are properties that all
natural human languages share. It is a matter of observation and
experimentation to determine precisely what abilities are innate and
what properties are shared by all languages.
Chomsky argued that the human brain contains a limited set of rules
for organizing language. This implies in turn that all languages have a
common structural basis; the set of rules is what is known as universal
• Speakers proficient in a language know which expressions are
acceptable in their language and which are unacceptable. The key
puzzle is how speakers come to know these restrictions of their
language, since expressions that violate those restrictions are not
present in the input, indicated as such. Chomsky argued that
this poverty of stimulus means Skinner's behaviorist perspective
cannot explain language acquisition. The absence of negative
evidence—evidence that an expression is part of a class of
ungrammatical sentences in one's language—is the core of his
As Chomsky puts it, "Evidently, development of language in the individual must
involve three factors: (1) genetic endowment, which sets limits on the
attainable languages, thereby making language acquisition possible; (2) external
data, converted to the experience that selects one or another language within a
narrow range; (3) principles not specific to FL."[FL is the faculty of language,
whatever properties of the brain cause it to learn language.] So (1) is Universal
Grammar in the first theoretical sense, (2) is the linguistic data to which the
child is exposed.
Hinzen summarizes the most common criticisms of Universal Grammar:
• Universal Grammar has no coherent formulation and is indeed unnecessary.
• Universal Grammar is in conflict with biology: it cannot have evolved by
standardly accepted Neo-Darwinian evolutionary principles.
• There are no linguistic universals: Universal Grammar is refuted by abundant
variation at all levels of linguistic organization, which lies at the heart of
human faculty of language.
In an article titled, "The Faculty of Language: What Is It, Who Has It, and How
Did It Evolve? Hauser, Chomsky, and Fitch present the three leading hypotheses
for how language evolved and brought humans to the point where we have a
Hypothesis 1 states that FLB (the Faculty of Language in the broad sense) is
strictly homologous to animal communication. This means that homologous
aspects of the Faculty of Language exist in non-human animals.
Hypothesis 2 states that FLB "is a derived, uniquely human adaptation for
language". This hypothesis believes that individual traits were subject to natural
selection and came to be very specialized for humans.
Hypothesis 3 states that only FLN (the Faculty of Language in the narrow sense)
is unique to humans. It believes that while mechanisms of FLB are present in
both humans and non-human animals, that the computational mechanism of
recursion is recently evolved solely in humans.This is the hypothesis which most
closely aligns to the typical theory of Universal Grammar championed by
• Joseph Greenberg, 1963: “Some Universals of Grammar
with Particular Reference to the Order of Meaningful
• I a relatively small sample of geographically and
genetically diverse languages
• I investigated correlations between features of word order
• I in a somewhat hard to define “basic word order”
• I Also keep in mind languages with no fixed word order
(Slavic l., Latin, . . . )
In declarative sentences with nominal subject and object,
the dominant order is [. . . ]^2 one in which the subject
precedes the object.
Mind the “nominal”: pronominal forms might behave
• In languages with prepositions, the genitive [. . . ] follows
the governing noun, while in languages with postpositions
it [. . . ] precedes it.
• WALS map
• Diachronic explanation: Genitive constructions are a
possible source for adpositions (source)
• English “in front of” etc.
If both the derivation and inflection follow the root, or
they both precede the root, the derivation is always
between the root and the inflection.
• If a language has inflection, it always has derivation.
• No language has a trial number unless it has a dual. No
language has a dual unless it has a plural.
• If a language has the category of gender, it always has the
category of number.
• A language never has more gender categories in
nonsingular numbers than in the singular.
Structures that are easier to process will be
grammaticalized before the grammar sanctions a
more difficult structure of the relevant type. This
results in implicational dependencies such as “if
SOV, then postpositions in PP,” a word-order
co-occurrence that will be argued to be optimal for
processing, in contrast to SOV and prepositions.
Many of the universals are explained by “head of
phrase” generalization. Head-final languages will
have SOV, postpositions, genitive-noun order etc,
whereas in head-initial languages the situation is
(Hawkins 1983, 1994) •
Three sets of criteria will be employed. The first of these is
the existence of prepositions as against postpositions. These will be
symbolized as Pr and
Po, respectively. The second will be the relative order of subject, verb, and
declarative sentences with nominal subject and object. The vast majority of
have several variant orders but a single dominant one. Logically, there are six
orders: SVO, SOV, VSO, VOS, OSV, and OVS. Of these six, however, only three
normally occur as dominant orders. The three which do not occur at all, or at
least are excessively rare, are VOS, OSV, and OVS. These all have in common
that the object precedes the subject.
• All the languages of the world have vowels and cononants.
• All the languages of the world have yes/no-questions.
• All languages have pronominal categories involving at least three
persons and two numbers.
• All most all the languages have nasal consonants.
• On a more abstract level, the assumption on the language capacity in
terms of Chomsky also belong to this type. The properties of
Universal Grammar applies to all the languages of the world.
• As we have seen there are two major approaches which differ in terms of the
aims in identifying the universals and therefore whose methodology is different
in many terms of their explanation or the existence of the universals, the
database they use and the degree of abstractness they involve in the universals.
• What's more we have mentioned what kinds of language universals occur and in
what ways they are different from each other, and why these distinctions are
necessary. As a last section we listed some syntactic (word order based)
universals proposed by Greenberg and his generalizations on the languages
depending on these universals.
• It is clear from all these discussions that Universals occur and play an important
role in determining the grammar model of the languages of the world, no matter
which approach you believe in and it is also not surprising to have the idea that
the two approaches do not contrast but co-work in the sense that they examine
different parts of the subject. .