Synthese 111 (1):17-51 (1997)

Fiona Cowie
California Institute of Technology
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
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1023/A:1004975305820
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 65,740
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Formal Models of Language Learning.Steven Pinker - 1979 - Cognition 7 (3):217-283.
The Child's Trigger Experience: Degree-0 Learnability.David Lightfoot - 1989 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 12 (2):321-334.
The Language Lottery: Toward a Biology of Grammars.David Lightfoot & Pere Julia - 1984 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 35 (4):408-411.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Gold’s Theorem and Cognitive Science.Kent Johnson - 2004 - Philosophy of Science 71 (4):571-592.
Chomsky in the Playground: Idealization in Generative Linguistics.Giulia Terzian - 2021 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 87:1-12.
Philosophy, Drama and Literature.Rick Benitez - 2010 - In Graham Oppy & Steve Gardner (eds.), A Companion to Philosophy in Australia & New Zealand. Melbourne, Australia: Monash University Press. pp. 371-372.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total views
226 ( #46,365 of 2,462,869 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
7 ( #101,756 of 2,462,869 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes