An excerpt from the new book “Power Systems” explore’s Chomsky’s contributions to the raging academic debate on linguistics and how children learn to speak.
" It’s been more than five decades since you first wrote about universal grammar, the idea of an inborn capacity in every human brain that allows a child to learn language. What are some of the more recent developments in the field?
Well, that gets technical, but there’s very exciting work going on refining the proposed principles of universal grammar. The concept is widely misunderstood in the media and in public discussions. Universal grammar is something different: it is not a set of universal observations about language. In fact, there are interesting generalizations about language that are worth studying, but universal grammar is the study of the genetic basis for language, the genetic basis of the language faculty. There can’t be any serious doubt that something like that exists. Otherwise an infant couldn’t reflexively acquire language from whatever complex data is around. So that’s not controversial. The only question is what the genetic basis of the language faculty is. “ […]