Reconstructing Chomsky on Language
Posted by Pak Guru on May 21st, 2018 | 3 responses | collocation, IELTS, interactive, listening, practice, text reconstruction
Recently in class Chomsky’s name came up in discussion as the most widely cited author, but not many students knew his name or why he is so well-known.
The following video outlines Chomsky’s ground-breaking theory of language.
Before you watch the video, discuss with a friend the following questions.
- What makes human language different from animal language?
- Is language learned, or are we born with it?
- How is it possible that small children learn languages so quickly?
Watch the video and then attempt the text reconstruction activity at the bottom of the page.
Language sets us apart. Other animals communicate, but they don’t have anything approaching the sophisticated grammar of human languages. How is it that we learn to speak and think in language so easily? Young children become adept in a new language very quickly. Since the dawn of philosophy, thinkers have argued about whether or not we have innate ideas. Whether we are born knowing things, as Plato believed, or rather as John Locke and other empiricists argued, the mind is a blank slate on which experience writes. An American linguist, Noam Chomsky, gave a twist to this debate in the 1960s, by demonstrating that children learning to speak just don’t have enough information to form the complex grammatical manoeuvres that allow them to generate unlimited new and original sentences, yet they do so with ease. There’s a poverty of stimulus. Something else must be going on. Chomsky’s hypothesis was that there are in-born structures in our brain, what he called a Language Acquisition Device, or LAD, which gives us a natural propensity to organise the spoken language that we hear in various grammatical ways. Without that, we couldn’t get started as language learners. If he’s right, language structure is hard-wired as a kind of universal grammar. Our slates have been written on before we emerge from the womb.