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Summary If there were any, linguistic universals would be properties that were found in all languages (i.e. universally). One might consider questions about linguistic universals per se, that is, questions as they arise with respect to any possible language. However, it is more common to focus on such questions as they arise with respect to human languages, or human languages that are normally acquired, or acquirable, as first languages. The three main questions here are the following. First, are there any linguistic universals? Second, assuming that there are linguistic universals, what are they? Are there universals relating to grammar or syntax, for example an underlying Universal Grammar? Are their lexical universals, types of expressions, features of expressions, or constraints on expressions, found in all (human) languages? Third, if there are linguistic universals, how is this to be explained? Is it demonstrable a priori that there must be linguistic universals, or some specific range thereof, or are the universals explained e.g. by human biology or the natures of human-inhabited environments, including social environments? As the third question indicates, the issues about linguistic universals are closely connected with questions about innateness.
Key works Montague 1970 Development of an account of absolutely general features of language systems. Lewis 1975 An attempt to connect languages like those Montague attempts to characterise with actual speakers, via appeal to conventions. Chomsky 1995 Useful discussion by Chomsky of his views on language, including the existence of linguistic universals. Crain & Pietroski 2001 Useful overview of the case for innateness of some features of language that connects the issue with questions about linguistic universals. Hauser et al 2002 Important recent work by Chomsky and others on the biological bases of language and the explanation for linguistic universals. Wierzbicka 1996 Important work that attempts to uncover a range of linguistic universals. Everett 2005 Argument that recent discoveries in anthropology undermine some claims about linguistic universals.
Introductions Baker, M. C. 2002. The Atoms of Language. Basic Books. Jackendoff 1994 Chomsky 1976 Matthews 2006
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  1. Joseph Agassi, Can Adults Become Genuinely Bilingual?
    The variety of languages in the world is considered a curse by some, who view the phenomenon as a Tower of Babel. Others consider it the most characteristic quality of human language as opposed to animal languages, which are supposedly species specific. The variety is viewed as a symptom of human caprice, arbitrariness, or dependence on mere historical accident by some; and as a symptom of human freedom and of the creative aspect of language by others. And, of course, the (...)
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  2. Steven Robert Allen, Chomsky's Other Revolution.
    It's often been said that Chomsky is to linguistics what Einstein is to physics. His 1957 treatise, Syntactic Structures, initiated the so-called Chomskyan Revolution; in that book, Chomsky proposed a new linguistic theory which defined language as an innate human faculty hard-wired into our brains. Consequently, in Chomsky's view, there is a kind of "universal grammar" underlying all languages. Imagine that an alien came to Earth and observed the way we humans communicate with each other. According to Chomsky, this alien (...)
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  3. Robin Allott (2001). The Great Mosaic Eye: Language and Evolution. Book Guild.
  4. Stephen G. Alter (2008). Darwin and the Linguists: The Coevolution of Mind and Language, Part 2. The Language–Thought Relationship. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 39 (1):38-50.
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  5. Louise M. Antony (2003). Rabbit-Pots and Supernovas : On the Relevance of Psychological Data to Linguistic Theory. In Alex Barber (ed.), Epistemology of Language. Oxford University Press.
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  6. Michael A. Arbib (2005). From Monkey-Like Action Recognition to Human Language: An Evolutionary Framework for Neurolinguistics. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28 (2):105-124.
    The article analyzes the neural and functional grounding of language skills as well as their emergence in hominid evolution, hypothesizing stages leading from abilities known to exist in monkeys and apes and presumed to exist in our hominid ancestors right through to modern spoken and signed languages. The starting point is the observation that both premotor area F5 in monkeys and Broca's area in humans contain a “mirror system” active for both execution and observation of manual actions, and that F5 (...)
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  7. Ronald Arbini (1969). Comments on Linguistic Competence and Language Acquisition. Synthese 19 (3-4):410 - 424.
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  8. Fabrizio Arosio (2010). Infectum and Perfectum. Two Faces of Tense Selection in Romance Languages. Linguistics and Philosophy 33 (3):171-214.
    This paper investigates the semantics of tense and aspect in Romance languages. Its goal is to develop a compositional, model-theoretic semantics for tense and temporal adverbs which is sensitive to aspectual distinctions. I will consider durative adverbial distributions and aspectual contrasts across different morphological tense forms. I will examine tense selection under habitual meanings, generic meanings and state of result constructions. In order to account for these facts I will argue that temporal homogeneity plays a fundamental role in tense selection (...)
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  9. Margaret L. Atherton & R. Schwarz (1974). Linguistic Innateness and its Evidence. Journal of Philosophy 71 (March):155-168.
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  10. Emmon Bach, Linguistic Universals and Particulars.
    Preconference version of paper for the 17th International Congress of Linguists in Prague, July, 2003.
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  11. Emmon Bach, Parochial and Universal Semantics: Semantic Typology and Little Studied Languages.
    ...the true difference between languages is not in what may or may not be expressed but in what must or must not be conveyed by the speakers.
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  12. Emmon Bach, Semantic Universals.
    The controversies surrounding Daniel Everett's characterization of the Amazonian language Pirahã and the Evans and Levinson paper about "the myth of language universals" (2009) are just two recent manifestations of a debate about linguistic theory and methodology that is anything but new.
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  13. Emmon Bach (2002). On the Surface Verb Q'ay'ai Qela. Linguistics and Philosophy 25 (5-6):531-544.
  14. Emmon Bach & R. Harms (eds.) (1968). Universals in Linguistic Theory. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
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  15. Emmon Bach, Eloise Jelinek, Angelika Kratzer & Barbara Partee (eds.) (1995). Quantification in Natural Languages. Kluwer.
    This extended collection of papers is the result of putting recent ideas on quantification to work on a wide variety of languages.
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  16. Mark Baker, Mapping the Terrain of Language Learning.
    Language learning and language typology are often studied separately, and it is common for experts in one area to know rather little about the other. This is not merely an unfortunate historical coincidence; there are some powerful practical reasons why it is so. The detailed study of language learning typically involves the experimental investigation of groups of people who are at various stages in the learning process—i.e., children. Hence it prototypically takes place at university daycares in North America, where the (...)
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  17. Alan Clinton Bale (2008). A Universal Scale of Comparison. Linguistics and Philosophy 31 (1):1-55.
    Comparative constructions form two classes, those that permit direct comparisons (comparisons of measurements as in Seymour is taller than he is wide) and those that only allow indirect comparisons (comparisons of relative positions on separate scales as in Esme is more beautiful than Einstein is intelligent). In contrast with other semantic theories, this paper proposes that the interpretation of the comparative morpheme remains the same whether it appears in sentences that compare individuals directly or indirectly. To develop a unified account, (...)
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  18. Alex Barber (2007). Linguistic Structure and the Brain. Croatian Journal of Philosophy 7 (3):317-341.
    A popular interpretation of linguistic theories has it that they should describe the brain at a high level of abstraction. One way this has been understood is as the requirement that the theory’s derivational structure reflect (by being isomorphic to) relevant structural properties of the language user’s brain. An important criticisrn of this idea, made originally by Crispin Wright against Gareth Evans in the 1980s, still has purchase, notwithstanding attempts to reply to it, notably by Martin Davies and, indirectly, Christopher (...)
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  19. Christian Bauer (1978). A Reflection on Universal Grammars. Synthese 37 (2):239 - 251.
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  20. William P. Bechtel (1996). What Knowledge Must Be in the Head in Order to Acquire Language. In B. Velichkovsky & Duane M. Rumbaugh (eds.), Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language. Hillsdale, Nj: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 45.
    Many studies of language, whether in philosophy, linguistics, or psychology, have focused on highly developed human languages. In their highly developed forms, such as are employed in scientific discourse, languages have a unique set of properties that have been the focus of much attention. For example, descriptive sentences in a language have the property of being "true" or "false," and words of a language have senses and referents. Sentences in a language are structured in accord with complex syntactic rules. Theorists (...)
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  21. Christina Behme (2008). Languages as Evolving Organisms – the Solution to the Logical Problem of Language Evolution? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 31 (5):512-513.
    Christiansen & Chater (C&C) argue persuasively that Universal Grammar (UG) could not have arisen through evolutionary processes. I provide additional suggestions to strengthen the argument against UG evolution. Further, I suggest that C&C's solution to the logical problem of language evolution faces several problems. Widening the focus to mechanisms of general cognition and inclusion of animal communication research might overcome these problems.
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  22. Christina Behme & H. S. (2008). Language Learning in Infancy: Does the Empirical Evidence Support a Domain Specific Language Acquisition Device? Philosophical Psychology 21 (5):641 – 671.
    Poverty of the Stimulus Arguments have convinced many linguists and philosophers of language that a domain specific language acquisition device (LAD) is necessary to account for language learning. Here we review empirical evidence that casts doubt on the necessity of this domain specific device. We suggest that more attention needs to be paid to the early stages of language acquisition. Many seemingly innate language-related abilities have to be learned over the course of several months. Further, the language input contains rich (...)
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  23. E. Benveniste (1953). Animal Communication and Human Language: The Language of the Bees. Diogenes 1 (1):1-7.
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  24. Pierre Besnier (1675/1971). A Philosophical Essay for the Reunion of Languages, 1675. Menston,Scolar Press.
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  25. Evert W. Beth (1963). The Relationship Between Formalised Languages and Natural Language. Synthese 15 (1):1 - 16.
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  26. Derek Bickerton (2006). Language Use, Not Language, is What Develops in Childhood and Adolescence. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29 (3):280-281.
    That both language and novel life-history stages are unique to humans is an interesting datum. But failure to distinguish between language and language use results in an exaggeration of the language acquisition period, which in turn vitiates claims that new developmental stages were causative factors in language evolution.
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  27. Derek Bickerton (2000). Broca's Demotion Does Not Doom Universal Grammar. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 23 (1):25-25.
    Despite problems with statistical significance, ancillary hypotheses, and integration into an overall view of cognition, Grodzinsky's demotion of Broca's area to a mechanism for tracking moved constituents is intrinsically plausible and fits a realistic picture of how syntax works.
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  28. Dorrit Billman (1987). Language Learnability and Language Development. Mind and Language 2 (3):252-263.
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  29. Maria Bittner, Scope in Kalaallisut: Analysis in CCG+UC2.
    Day 6 of advanced course on "Crosslinguistic compositional semantics" at 2009 LSA Summer Institute at UC Berkeley. Plan for today: (a) Review: scope prediction, Kalaallisut data, (b) Analysis of Kalaallisut data, (c) Questions & discussion.
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  30. Maria Bittner, Semantic Composition: Kalaallisut in CCG+UC1.
    Day 3 of advanced course on "Crosslinguistic compositional semantics" at 2009 LSA Summer Institute at UC Berkeley. Plan for the day: (a) Introduction: Toward sun-sem typology (b) CCG+UC1 fragment of Kalaallisut, (c) Kalaallisut BA.TO.L-traits explained.
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  31. Maria Bittner, Tense as Temporal Centering.
    Abstract According to an influential theory, English tenses are anaphoric to an aforementioned reference point. This point is sometimes construed as a time (e.g. Reichenbach 1947, Partee 1973, Stone 1997) and sometimes as an event (e.g. Kamp 1979, 1981, Webber 1988). Moreover, some researchers draw semantic parallels between tenses and pronouns (e.g. Partee 1973, 1984, Stone 1997), whereas others draw parallels between tenses and anaphorically anchored (in)definite descriptions (e.g.
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  32. Maria Bittner, From Kalaallisut to English: Analysis in CCG+UC2.
    Day 4 of advanced course on "Crosslinguistic compositional semantics" at 2009 LSA Summer Institute at UC Berkeley. Plan to today: (a) Introduction (syn-sem traits of English vs. Kalaallisut, scope corollary), (b) UC1 + event (re)centering = UC2, (c) English and Kalaallisut in CCG+UC2, (d) Analysis of Kalaallisut BA.TO.L (review) vs. English SA.SU.S (new).
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  33. Maria Bittner (forthcoming). Topic States in Mandarin Discourse. In Michael Opper (ed.), Proceedings of the 25th North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics. Ohio State University.
    I propose that Mandarin 。-sentences (units marked by 。) are aspectual topic-comment sequences, where an initial update (terminating in a pause) introduces a topic state for comment by one or more clauses. Each comment anaphorically refers to the topic state via the aspect feature of the verbal predicate. This proposal explains why Mandarin 。-sentences have controversial boundaries, since speakers may disagree where one topic state ends and the next one begins. It also explains various manifestations of aspect-prominence and topic-prominence in (...)
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  34. Maria Bittner (2014). Temporality: Universals and Variation. Wiley-Blackwell.
    This book surveys the ways in which languages of different types refer to past, present, and future events and how these referents are related to the knowledge and attitudes of discourse participants. The book is the culmination of fifteen years of research by the author. Four major language types are examined in-depth: tense-based English, tense-aspect-based Polish, aspect-based Chinese, and mood-based Kalaallisut. Each contributes to a series of logical representation languages, which together define a common logical language that is argued to (...)
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  35. Maria Bittner (2006). Ontology for Human Talk and Thought (Not Robotics). Theoretical Linguistics 32 (1):47-56.
    Hamm, Kamp, and van Lambalgen 2006 (hereafter HLK) propose to relate NL discourse to cognitive representations that also deal with world knowledge, planning, belief revision, etc. Surprisingly, to represent human cognition they use an event calculus "which has found applications in robotics". This comment argues that the robotics-based theory of HLK attributes too much to world knowledge and not enough to the ontology, centering, and other universals of NL semantics. It is also too Anglo-centric to generalize to languages of other (...)
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  36. Maria Bittner (2003). Word Order and Incremental Update. In Proceedings from CLS 39-1. CLS.
    The central claim of this paper is that surface-faithful word-by-word update is feasible and desirable, even in languages where word order is supposedly free. As a first step, in sections 1 and 2, I review an argument from Bittner 2001a that semantic composition is not a static process, as in PTQ, but rather a species of anaphoric bridging. But in that case the context-setting role of word order should extend from cross-sentential discourse anaphora to sentence-internal anaphoric composition. This can be (...)
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  37. Maria Bittner (1998). Cross-Linguistic Semantics for Questions. Linguistics and Philosophy 21 (1):1-82.
    : The Hamblin-Karttunen approach has led to many insights about questions in English. In this article the results of this rule-by-rule tradition are reconsidered from a crosslinguistic perspective. Starting from the type-driven XLS theory developed in Bittner (1994a, b), it is argued that evidence from simple questions (in English, Polish, Lakhota and Warlpiri) leads to certain revisions. The revised XLS theory then immediately generalizes to complex questions — including scope marking (Hindi), questions with quantifiers (English) and multiple wh-questions (English, Hindi, (...)
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  38. Maria Bittner (1994). Cross-Linguistic Semantics. Linguistics and Philosophy 17 (1):53 - 108.
    Rooth & Partee (1982) and Rooth (1985) have shown that the English-specific rule-by-rule system of PTQ can be factored out into function application plus two transformations for resolving type mismatch (type lifting and variable binding). Building on these insights, this article proposes a universal system for type-driven translation, by adding two more innovations: local type determination for gaps (generalizing Montague 1973) and a set of semantic filters (extending Cooper 1983). This system, dubbed Cross-Linguistic Semantics (XLS), is shown to account for (...)
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  39. Maria Bittner & Ken Hale (1995). Remarks on Definiteness in Warlpiri. In Emmon Bach, Eloise Jelinek, Angelika Kratzer & Barbara Partee (eds.), Quantification in Natural Languages. Kluwer.
    In this paper, we discuss some rather puzzling facts concerning the semantics of Warlpiri expressions of cardinality, i.e. the Warlpiri counterparts of English expressions like one,two, many, how many. The morphosyntactic evidence, discussed in section 1, suggests that the corresponding expressions in Warlpiri are nominal, just like the Warlpiri counterparts of prototypical nouns, eg. child. We also argue that Warlpiri has no articles or any other items of the syntactic category D(eterminer). In section 2, we describe three types of readings— (...)
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  40. Maria Bittner & Naja Trondhjem (2008). Quantification as Reference: Evidence From Q-Verbs. In Lisa Matthewson (ed.), Quantification: A Cross-Linguistic Perspective. Emerald. 2--7.
    Formal semantics has so far focused on three categories of quantifiers, to wit, Q-determiners (e.g. 'every'), Q-adverbs (e.g. 'always'), and Q-auxiliaries (e.g. 'would'). All three can be analyzed in terms of tripartite logical forms (LF). This paper presents evidence from verbs with distributive affixes (Q-verbs), in Kalaallisut, Polish, and Bininj Gun-wok, which cannot be analyzed in terms of tripartite LFs. It is argued that a Q-verb involves discourse reference to a distributive verbal dependency, i.e. an episode-valued function that sends different (...)
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  41. Max Black (1959). Linguistic Relativity: The Views of Benjamin Lee Whorf. Philosophical Review 68 (2):228-238.
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  42. Paul Bloom & Frank C. Keil (2001). Thinking Through Language. Mind and Language 16 (4):351-367.
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  43. Paul Bloom & Frank C. Keil (2001). Thinking Through Language. Mind and Language 16 (4):351–367.
    What would it be like to have never learned English, but instead only to know Hopi, Mandarin Chinese, or American Sign Language? Would that change the way you think? Imagine entirely losing your language, as the result of stroke or trauma. You are aphasic, unable to speak or listen, read or write. What would your thoughts now be like? As the most extreme case, imagine having been raised without any language at all, as a wild child. What—if anything—would it be (...)
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  44. Reinhard Blutner (1993). Dynamic Generalized Quantifiers and Existential Sentences in Natural Languages. Journal of Semantics 10 (1):33-64.
    The central topic to be discussed in this paper is the definiteness restriction in there-insertion contexts. Various attempts to explain this definiteness restriction using the standard algebraic framework are discussed (Barwise & Cooper 1981; Keenan 1978; Milsark 1974; Higginbortham 1987; Lappin 1988) and the shortcomings of these attempts are demonstrated. Finally, a new approach to the interpretation of existential there be-sentences is developed within the framework of Groenendijk & Stokhof's (1990) Dynamic Montague Grammar. This approach makes use of a variant (...)
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  45. Edward Brerewood (1614/1972). Enquiries Touching the Diversity of Languages and Religions. Genève,Slatkine Reprints.
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  46. Michael Brody (1987). On Chomsky's Knowledge of Language. Mind and Language 2 (2):165-177.
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  47. James H. Bunn (2000). Universal Grammar or Common Syntax? A Critical Study of Jackendoff's Patterns in the Mind. Minds and Machines 10 (1):119-128.
  48. Christine A. Caldwell (2008). Convergent Cultural Evolution May Explain Linguistic Universals. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 31 (5):515-516.
    Christiansen & Chater's (C&C's) argument rests on an assumption that convergent cultural evolution can produce similar (complex) behaviours in isolated populations. In this commentary, I describe how experiments recently carried out by Caldwell and colleagues can contribute to the understanding of such phenomena.
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  49. Gian Franco Cantelli (1993). Reflections on the Vichian Thesis That the Original Language of Humanity Was a Language Spoken by the Gods. New Vico Studies 11:1-12.
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  50. Paul Carus (1913). English as a Universal Language. The Monist 23 (4):603-605.
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