The logical problem of language acquisition

Synthese 111 (1):17-51 (1997)
Arguments from the Logical Problem of Language Acquisition suggest that since linguistic experience provides few negative data that would falsify overgeneral grammatical hypotheses, innate knowledge of the principles of Universal Grammar must constrain learners hypothesis formulation. Although this argument indicates a need for domain-specific constraints, it does not support their innateness. Learning from mostly positive data proceeds unproblematically in virtually all domains. Since not every domain can plausibly be accorded its own special faculty, the probative value of the argument in the linguistic case is dubious. In ignoring the holistic and probablistic nature of theory construction, the argument underestimates the extent to which positive data can supply negative evidence and hence overestimates the intractability of language learning in the absence of a dedicated faculty. While nativism about language remains compelling, the alleged Logical Problem contributes nothing to its plausibility and the emphasis on the Problem in the recent acquisition literature has been a mistake.
Keywords Acquisition  Grammar  Innate  Language  Learning  Metaphysics
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DOI 10.1023/A:1004975305820
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