Day: March 31, 2012

UG and its contribution to methodology

languagefacultyAcademically I have always been a generative linguist trained in the strict sense of formal linguistics and Universal Grammar. To some extent, it is not easy to look beyond your academic belief system. But once in a while a heated philosophical debate between the Unversalists and the Cognitivists would still catch my interest. I remember four or five years ago when I was still doing my dissertation in graduate school, one of my professors circulated a paper written by Andrew Nevins, David Pesetsky and Cilene Rodrigues to counter the arguments from Daniel Everett on the lack of recursion in the Pirahã language. It was quite an eye-opener. Before that I had never questioned the fundamental beliefs in the generative linguistic field. Thus I digged deeper into the debate and found that Michael Tomasello had written a paper saying that language is not an instinct at all and there is nothing to the program of Universal Grammar. Then I read the paper written by Hauser, Chomsky and Fitch on the core principle of UG, i.e. recursion. These papers really inspired me to look at the foundational issues in linguistics and particularly in generative linguistics. Although the cognitivist view on language is very interesting and probably would correct some biases in the formal field towards pure description and functional cognitive theories of language, such a view in general still seems to me to be lacking in methodological rigor and explanatory power. So I just continued my research as usual while keeping an eye on the cognitive side of story. Read more… »