Chomsky’s universal grammar - Thoughts & Language

30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011

Chomsky’s universal grammar
Thoughts & Language

Nearly every sentence — even simple ones — can have many different meanings. For example, ’I know students like pizza’ could mean (among other things) I’m aware that students enjoy pizza, or that I’m as familiar with students as I am with pizza. When US linguist Noam Chomsky was in graduate school in the 1950s, linguists had no way to explain how each sentence can have many possible meanings. Chomsky argued that this was because spoken or written language was the outward expression of a much deeper mental structure — a ’universal grammar’ — shared by all humans, regardless of their language. Chomsky and his followers believe that grammar has three components: syntactical, phonological and semantic. Of these, only syntax (structure) is fundamental. Phonology (the sound of spoken words) and semantics (the meaning of sentences) are secondary. Syntax reflects the underlying structure of the mind, while phonology and semantics are arbitrary. Paradoxically, syntax is an unconscious mental process; thus, the parts of language that seem most concrete — the words and their meanings — are least interesting to Chomsky. This theory revolutionized linguistics: Chomsky’s ’generative linguistics’ was flexible enough to explain both the many different meanings of a sentence, and the many different languages in the world.

3-SECOND PSYCHE

All languages share the same broad grammatical principles — a ’universal grammar’ that is innately understood by all healthy humans and which enables us to acquire language.

3-MINUTE ANALYSIS

In school, most of us are taught ’grammar’ that emphasizes the specific rules of our language: add ’s’ to form a plural, use an apostrophe to indicate a possessive. Chomsky and his followers aren’t interested in these rules, which vary from language to language. Instead, they focus on rules that are common to all languages: sentences include noun phrases and verb phrases, which can be divided into smaller units or combined into bigger ones, then used to generate actual spoken words.

RELATED THEORIES

THE COGNITIVE REVOLUTION

EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY

SAPIR—WHORF HYPOTHESIS

3-SECOND BIOGRAPHY

NOAM CHOMSKY

1928—

30-SECOND TEXT

Dave Munger

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Chomsky believes that all languages share a ’universal grammar’. Some linguists have challenged the claim that all languages share the same word classes.