Language learning in infancy: Does the empirical evidence support a domain specific language acquisition device?

Philosophical Psychology 21 (5):641 – 671 (2008)
Abstract
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 stochastic information that can be accessed by domain-general learning mechanisms. Computer simulation has shown how mechanisms that are not domain specific can exploit the information contained in language. We conclude that (i) Poverty of the Stimulus Arguments need to be conceptually clarified and (ii) more empirical research needs to be carried out before we can rule out that data driven general purpose mechanisms can account for language learning.
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