Universal Grammar

Universal Grammar (usually credited to Noam Chomsky) attempts to explain language acquisition in general. This theory does not claim that all human languages have the same grammar, or that all humans are "programmed" with the same structure. Rather, universal grammar proposes a set of rules intended to explain language acquisition in child development.
Ever since this linguistic theory has been formed, universal grammar theories have been subjected to criticism. The debate is still going on. Here are two interesting points of view.

Linguistics: Time and Verbs

Babel's children

"IT IS hard to conceive of a language without nouns or verbs. But that is just what Riau Indonesian is, according to David Gil, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig. Dr Gil has been studying Riau for the past 12 years. Initially, he says, he struggled with the language, despite being fluent in standard Indonesian. However, a breakthrough came when he realised that what he had been thinking of as different parts of speech were, in fact, grammatically the same. For example, the phrase “the chicken is eating” translates into colloquial Riau as “ayam makan”. Literally, this is “chicken eat”. But the same pair of words also have meanings as diverse as “the chicken is making somebody eat”, or “somebody is eating where the chicken is”.
There are, he says, no modifiers that distinguish the tenses of verbs. Nor are there modifiers for nouns that distinguish the definite from the indefinite (“the”, as opposed to “a”). Indeed, there are no features in Riau Indonesian that distinguish nouns from verbs. These categories, he says, are imposed because the languages that western linguists are familiar with have them."

"[…] This sort of observation flies in the face of conventional wisdom about what language is. Most linguists are influenced by the work of Noam Chomsky — in particular, his theory of “deep grammar”. According to Dr Chomsky, people are born with a sort of linguistic template in their brains. This is a set of rules that allows children to learn a language quickly, but also imposes constraints and structure on what is learnt. Evidence in support of this theory includes the tendency of children to make systematic mistakes which indicate a tendency to impose rules on what turn out to be grammatical exceptions (eg, “I dided it” instead of “I did it”). There is also the ability of the children of migrant workers to invent new languages known as creoles out of the grammatically incoherent pidgin spoken by their parents. Exactly what the deep grammar consists of is still not clear, but a basic distinction between nouns and verbs would probably be one of its minimum requirements."

"[…] Many of the people who developed modern linguistics had had an education in Latin and Greek. As a consequence, English was often described until well into the 20th century as having six different noun cases, because Latin has six. (A noun case is how that noun's grammatical use is distinguished, for example as a subject or as an object.) Only relatively recently did grammarians begin a debate over noun cases in English. Some now contend that it does not have noun cases at all, others that it has two (one for the possessive, the other for everything else) while still others maintain that there are three or four cases. These would include the nominative (for the subject of a sentence), the accusative (for its object) and the genitive (to indicate possession)."

"[…] A project that Dr Gil is just beginning in Indonesia, in collaboration with Lera Boroditsky, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is examining correlations between the way concepts are expressed in languages and how native speakers of these languages think. This is a test of a hypothesis first made by Benjamin Lee Whorf, an early 20th-century American linguist, that the structure of language affects the way people think. Though Whorf's hypothesis fell into disfavour half a century ago, it is now undergoing something of a revival.
Dr. Boroditsky's experiment is simple. People are shown three pictures, one of a man about to kick a ball, one of the same man having just kicked a ball, and a third of a different man who is about to kick a ball. They are then asked which two of the three are the most similar. Indonesians generally choose the first two pictures, which have the same man in them, while English speakers are likely to identify the two pictures that show the ball about to be kicked — an emphasis on the temporal, rather than the spatial, relationship between the principal objects in the picture."

"Dr Gil believes that this might be because time is, in English, an integral grammatical concept — every verb must have a tense, be it past, present or future. By contrast, in Indonesian, expressing a verb's tense is optional, and not always done." [Jan 8th 2004, The Economist]


The interests of the linguist David Gil are languages, linguistic theory and the interaction of grammar with other cognitive domains.
He was also engaged in constructing a theory of prosody, a formal characterization of the human 'sense of rhythm', as manifest in language, both ordinary and poetic, and in music.
At present, his research interest is in the Riau dialect of Indonesian and to lay down the foundations for a theory of universal grammar that is non-Eurocentric in orientation.

What does FLN / FLB mean

Chomsky and his coauthors Marc Hauser and W. Tecumseh Fitch divided the language faculty in a way that reflected what had been Chomsky's earlier distinction between competence and performance. The faculty of language in the "narrow" sense (FLN) amounts to the recursive computational system alone, whereas the faculty in the broad sense (FLB) includes perceptual-articulatory systems [Source: Encyclopædia Britannica]

Where do languages come from? A case study in the interaction of culture and grammar.

by Daniel L. Everett - Illinois State University

" […] To argue convincingly that syntax is innate, we must first show that it cannot be derived from independent factors. We must establish that it has no logical, mathematical, semantic, phonetic, sociolinguistic, cognitive, cultural, historical, functional, etc. basis. Aspects of syntax independently derivable from these other factors shouldn't be ascribed to the genome as well."

" […] One hears of language as innate or as instinctual so frequently these days that it might be surprising to hear that there are many researchers who think that it is nothing of the kind. There are various alternative views of the nature of human language. Language rests on six preconditions: Platform, Society, Intentionality, Cognition, Culture, and Communication. Once these conditions are met, language emerges naturally, to be shaped like a tool by the culture in which it develops. Like a tool it can vary widely, parts of it can be lost, and it fits the needs of its own culture better than it fits the needs of other cultures."

Pirahã and Linguistic Relativity

Recently, the discussion about linguistic relativity has reached a new level. The indigenous language of an isolated tribe which lives around the Amazonas is seemingly missing words (and ideas) for numbers, future and most controversial, is not "recursive" which challenges one of the Chomsky doctrines. For details see Wikipedia - Pirahã language.

Talk and Speech

Hilarious example for phonetic transcription of English and Chinese Learn Chinese in 5 minutes.



The language of the internet is constantly evolving; here are some of the most common Acronyms & Abbreviations and some tips & tricks on how to use them (not only helpful for so called experts)!