A Sample of Self-Definers—Historical Linguistics, Etymology, and Sound Changes: Part I—The SpecGram Book Elves™ SpecGram Vol CLXXV, No 4 Contents Equivocal Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know—Madalena Cruz-Ferreira

Universal Grammar: A Metatheoretical Approach

Étienne Plusrose
National University of Toronto

Linguistics has become split into two rival camps. The orthodox position holds that Universal Grammar is an innate function of the brain. In support of this it cites the Poverty of Stimulus Argumentthat the linguistic data available to the human infant is insufficient to support the acquisition of language from a process of learning from examples.

However, there are some contrarians who, in spite of 50 years of theoretical linguistic research, maintain that language is learnt merely by imitation, pattern recognition and generalisation. Partisans of this faction frequently claim that there is no evidence to support the Poverty of Stimulus Argument.

Let us examine this claim in more detail. If there is indeed no evidence for the Poverty of Stimulus Argument, how did linguists arrive at it? We must conclude that it is innately present in the theoretician’s mind. Therefore, it is not only Universal Grammar that is innate, but our theoretical understanding of it, too.

The consequences for the future of theoretical linguistics are far-reaching. No longer need theoreticians pore over reference grammars, seeking to reconcile recalcitrant data with our models. No longer need we fret over the prospect that cherished typological universals may turn out to be merely “statistical tendencies”. We need only trust our language instinct, and all will be well.

A Sample of Self-DefinersHistorical Linguistics, Etymology, and Sound Changes: Part IThe SpecGram Book Elves™
Equivocal Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t KnowMadalena Cruz-Ferreira
SpecGram Vol CLXXV, No 4 Contents