May 14, 2011

Grammar fundamental found?

Noam Chomsky
An experiment with English speakers with low or no exposure to other languages found what may be some support for Chomsky's theory of grammar innateness, which has been questioned as of late. 

The experiment performed by linguists of Johns Hopkins University found that, when taught an "alien" (artificial) language, humans found several word orders valid but others very hard to assume. So they would accept the following kind of constructions (all meaning three blue cups):
  • Three blue cups
  • Three cups blue
  • Cups blue three
But not blue cups three. This kind of construction in which the adjective precedes the noun but the numeral is after it is extremely rare in real human languages and the experiment's subjects found it also very awkward, having increased difficulty in learning it.

Source: Science Daily.


  1. I think this research proves nothing, as there's nothing to prove about useless theories like Chomsky's. Well yes, it proves something: these people work for universities and from time to time they must produce some research to justify their salaries, however absurd and useless this research might be.

    On the other hand, let's remember that in languages like classical Latin it was customary to postpone the numeral, and even in Spanish there used to be a sentence, common in bullfighting posters, with a curious example of double numeral: "6 toros 6"!

  2. Fair enough. I mostly expect some debate.

    As linguist, do you know which languages, if any, have the "blue cups three" construction?

  3. Not really. Finding such languages is not exactly my cup of tea!

    And I don't usually spend my time reading about Chomsky and Chomskyans. However, I've browsed the Science article and realized how ridiculous the whole thing seems, at least to me.


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