About this topic
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. Marc 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
Related categories

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  1. Can Adults Become Genuinely Bilingual?Joseph Agassi - unknown
    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 (...)
  2. Against the Monolith: The Quest for Individuality Within the Evolutionary Matrix.Stacey Elizabeth Ake - 1999 - Dissertation, The Pennsylvania State University
    This dissertation is about the evolution of human consciousness, beginning with the biological and continuing through language development up to ethical or moral action. ;The neurobiological theories of Gerald Edelman, particularly topobiology and Neural Darwinism, are used to explain the way the mind can be said to physiologically have the capacity for metaphor and thus language. This work is substantiated by the case of Phineas Gage as it is interpreted by Damasio and Damasio. ;The logico-linguistic phenomenology of semiotician C. S. (...)
  3. Chomsky's Other Revolution.Steven Robert Allen - unknown
    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 (...)
  4. The Great Mosaic Eye: Language and Evolution.Robin Allott - 2001 - Book Guild.
  5. Darwin and the Linguists: The Coevolution of Mind and Language, Part 2. The Language–Thought Relationship.Stephen G. Alter - 2008 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 39 (1):38-50.
    This paper examines Charles Darwin’s idea that language-use and humanity’s unique cognitive abilities reinforced each other’s evolutionary emergence—an idea Darwin sketched in his early notebooks, set forth in his Descent of man , and qualified in Descent’s second edition. Darwin understood this coevolution process in essentially Lockean terms, based on John Locke’s hints about the way language shapes thinking itself. Ironically, the linguist Friedrich Max Müller attacked Darwin’s human descent theory by invoking a similar thesis, the German romantic notion of (...)
  6. Island Constraints and Overgeneralization in Language Acquisition.Ben Ambridge - 2015 - Cognitive Linguistics 26 (2):361-370.
    Name der Zeitschrift: Cognitive Linguistics Jahrgang: 26 Heft: 2 Seiten: 361-370.
  7. There May Be a “Schizophrenic Language”.Nancy C. Andreasen - 1982 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 5 (4):588.
  8. Rabbit-Pots and Supernovas : On the Relevance of Psychological Data to Linguistic Theory.Louise M. Antony - 2003 - In Alex Barber (ed.), Epistemology of Language. Oxford University Press.
  9. From Monkey-Like Action Recognition to Human Language: An Evolutionary Framework for Neurolinguistics.Michael A. Arbib - 2005 - 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 (...)
  10. Comments on Linguistic Competence and Language Acquisition.Ronald Arbini - 1969 - Synthese 19 (3-4):410 - 424.
  11. Infectum and Perfectum. Two Faces of Tense Selection in Romance Languages.Fabrizio Arosio - 2010 - 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 (...)
  12. Linguistic Innateness and its Evidence.Margaret L. Atherton & R. Schwarz - 1974 - Journal of Philosophy 71 (March):155-168.
  13. Linguistic Universals and Particulars.Emmon Bach - manuscript
    Preconference version of paper for the 17th International Congress of Linguists in Prague, July, 2003.
  14. Parochial and Universal Semantics: Semantic Typology and Little Studied Languages.Emmon Bach - unknown
    ...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.
  15. Semantic Universals.Emmon Bach - unknown
    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.
  16. On the Surface Verb Q'ay'ai Qela.Emmon Bach - 2002 - Linguistics and Philosophy 25 (5-6):531-544.
  17. Universals in Linguistic Theory.Emmon Bach & R. Harms (eds.) - 1968 - Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
  18. Quantification in Natural Languages.Emmon Bach, Eloise Jelinek, Angelika Kratzer & Barbara Partee (eds.) - 1995 - Kluwer Academic Publishers.
    This extended collection of papers is the result of putting recent ideas on quantification to work on a wide variety of languages.
  19. Mapping the Terrain of Language Learning.Mark Baker - manuscript
    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 (...)
  20. The Innate Endowment for Language: Underspecified or Overspecified?Mark C. Baker - 2006 - In Peter Carruthers (ed.), The Innate Mind: Culture and Cognition. New York: Oxford University Press New York.
  21. A Universal Scale of Comparison.Alan Clinton Bale - 2008 - 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, (...)
  22. Linguistic Structure and the Brain.Alex Barber - 2007 - 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 (...)
  23. And the Development of Language.Elizabeth Bates - 2001 - In William P. Bechtel, Pete Mandik, Jennifer Mundale & Robert S. Stufflebeam (eds.), Philosophy and the Neurosciences: A Reader. Blackwell. pp. 134.
  24. A Reflection on Universal Grammars.Christian Bauer - 1978 - Synthese 37 (2):239 - 251.
  25. Widening the Field: The Process of Language Acquisition.Edith L. Bavin - 2009 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32 (5):449-450.
    Evans & Levinson (E&L) argue against Universal Grammar on the basis of language diversity. A related and fundamental issue is whether the language input provides sufficient information for a child to acquire it. I briefly discuss the more integrated approaches to language acquisition which focus on the mechanisms, and research showing that input cues provide valuable information for the language learner.
  26. Going for Broca? I Wouldn't Bet on It!Alan A. Beaton - 2003 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (2):212-213.
    The role of Broca's area is currently unclear even with regard to language. Suggestions that this area was enlarged on the left in certain of our hominid ancestors are unconvincing. Broca's area may have nothing to do with a lateralized gestural or vocal system Handedness may have evolved more than four million years ago.
  27. What Knowledge Must Be in the Head in Order to Acquire Language.William P. Bechtel - 1996 - In B. Velichkovsky & Duane M. Rumbaugh (eds.), Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language. Hillsdale, Nj: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. pp. 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 (...)
  28. Does Kinship Terminology Provide Evidence for or Against Universal Grammar?Christina Behme - 2010 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33 (5):381 - 382.
    Jones introduces an intricate machinery of kin classification that overcomes limitations of previous accounts. I question whether such a machinery is plausible. Because individuals never need to learn the entire spectrum of kin terminology, they could rely on data-driven learning. The complexity of Jones's machinery for kin classification casts doubt on the existence of innate structures that cover the complete linguistic domain.
  29. Languages as Evolving Organisms – the Solution to the Logical Problem of Language Evolution?Christina Behme - 2008 - 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.
  30. Language Learning in Infancy: Does the Empirical Evidence Support a Domain Specific Language Acquisition Device?Christina Behme & Helene Deacon - 2008 - 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 (...)
  31. Discerning the Historical Source of Human Language.Edward G. Belaga - 2009 - Faith Magazine 41 (5):10-12.
    The problem of the emergence and evolution of natural languages is seen today by many specialists as one of the most difficult problems in the cognitive sciences. We believe that a key to unravelling this enigma is the close relationship of language to mathematics.
  32. Emergence and Evolution of Natural Languages: New Mathematical and Algorithmic Perspectives.Edward G. Belaga - 2008 - In Proceedings of Language, Communication and Cognition International Conference, Brighton, August 4th-7th 2008.
    In the search of new approaches to the problem of emergence and evolution of natural languages, Mathematics, Theoretical Computer Science, as well as Molecular Biology and Neuroscience, both deeply penetrated and profoundly inspired by concepts originated in Mathematics and Computer Science, represent today the richest pools of formal concepts, structures, and methods to borrow and to adapt.
  33. Animal Communication and Human Language: The Language of the Bees.E. Benveniste - 1953 - Diogenes 1 (1):1-7.
  34. Grammar Growth and Parameter Setting: Computation and Creoles.Robert C. Berwick - 1986 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 9 (3):562.
  35. A Philosophical Essay for the Reunion of Languages, 1675.Pierre Besnier - 1675 - Menston, Scolar Press.
  36. The Relationship Between Formalised Languages and Natural Language.Evert W. Beth - 1963 - Synthese 15 (1):1 - 16.
  37. Language Use, Not Language, is What Develops in Childhood and Adolescence.Derek Bickerton - 2006 - 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.
  38. Mothering Plus Vocalization Doesn't Equal Language.Derek Bickerton - 2004 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27 (4):504-505.
    Falk has much of interest to say on the evolution of mothering, but she fails to address the core issue of language evolution: how symbolism or structure evolved. Control of infants does not require either, and Falk provides neither evidence nor arguments supporting referential symbolism as a component of mother-infant interactions.
  39. Language Evolution Without Evolution.Derek Bickerton - 2003 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (6):669-670.
    Jackendoff's major syntactic exemplar is deeply unrepresentative of most syntactic relations and operations. His treatment of language evolution is vulnerable to Occam's Razor, hypothesizing stages of dubious independence and unexplained adaptiveness, and effectively divorcing the evolution of language from other aspects of human evolution. In particular, it ignores connections between language and the massive discontinuities in human cognitive evolution.
  40. Broca's Demotion Does Not Doom Universal Grammar.Derek Bickerton - 2000 - 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.
  41. A Dim Monocular View of Universal-Grammar Access.Derek Bickerton - 1996 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 19 (4):716-717.
    This target article's handling of theory and data and the range of evidence surveyed for its main contention fall short of normal BBS standards. However, the contention itself is reasonable and can be supported if one rejects the metaphor for linguistic competence and accepts that are no more than the way the brain does language.
  42. Finding the True Place of Homo Habilis in Language Evolution.Derek Bickerton - 1995 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 18 (1):182-183.
    Despite some sound basic assumptions, Wilkins & Wakefield portray a Homo habilis too linguistically sophisticated to fit in with the subsequent fossil record and thereby lose a reasoned explanation for human innovativeness. They err, too, in accepting a single-level model of conceptual structure and in deriving initial linguistic units from calls, a process far more dubious than the derivation of home-sign from naive gesture.
  43. Language Learnability and Language Development.Dorrit Billman - 1987 - Mind and Language 2 (3):252-263.
  44. Semantic Composition: Kalaallisut in CCG+UC1.Maria Bittner - manuscript
    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.
  45. Tense as Temporal Centering.Maria Bittner - manuscript
    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. Webber 1988). This paper proposes a unified approach.
  46. From Kalaallisut to English: Analysis in CCG+UC2.Maria Bittner - manuscript
    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).
  47. Scope in Kalaallisut: Analysis in CCG+UC2.Maria Bittner - manuscript
    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.
  48. Topic States in Mandarin Discourse.Maria Bittner - forthcoming - 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 (...)
  49. Temporality: Universals and Variation.Maria Bittner - 2014 - 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 (...)
  50. Ontology for Human Talk and Thought (Not Robotics).Maria Bittner - 2006 - 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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