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In a more recent study, Berent et al. In contrast, ill-formed syllables did not systematically tax sensorimotor regions — while such syllables engaged primary auditory cortex, they tended to deactivate rather than engage articulatory motor regions. The fact that the ill-formed structure differentially engages traditional language areas compared to its well-formed counterpart is taken as evidence that these constraints have to be attributed to the language faculty itself rather than to sensory-motor pressures.

However, they concede that phonological rules are grounded in the sensorimotor system. Again, in a usage-based perspective, it is not very surprising that nonwords consisting of syllables that do occur in English or are at least similar to syllables that do occur in English are processed differently by English native speakers than nonwords consisting of infelicitous syllables. As is well-known, the function of different brain areas and, hence, the significance of neuroimaging results is still a matter of considerable debate.

Thus, perhaps the most crucial question is: Why does the SSP exist, and why does it apply in so many different languages? In a usage-based perspective, languages are learnt via generalizations and abstractions over actual instances of language use cf. Goldberg ; Taylor The same goes for language.

Language Acquisition and Universal Grammar

Concerning phonology, Taylor points out:. One might suppose that a language will tend to make the most efficient use of the available phonological resources, with each of its vowels and consonants being exploited to an equal degree in the make-up of its words and morphemes. This, however, is not what we find. Skewed frequencies are manifest in each of the ninety-five languages surveyed by Tambovtsev and Martindale , the skewing being particularly evident in languages with large phoneme inventories. It is therefore not too surprising that languages do not exploit all possible sound combinations in all different syllable positions.

Deacon further demonstrates with the example of focal color terms how even tiny biases can produce near-universal language features. Christiansen and Chater do not assume that earlier stages of language, or a protolanguage, were more complex than present-day languages e.


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However, it does make sense to assume that in its early stages, language was less structured than modern language — just because it was less complex. Phonological preferences effect are seen as hardwired in the brain cause. On the other hand, universals are seen as factors that shape the human language faculty.

Language Universals

The alternative account proposed here suggests that, on the contrary, it is language itself as well as the domain-general processes that shape language that give rise to language universals. Of course, this does not mean that we can rule out the existence of language-specific biological adaptations cf.

However, given the fact that seeming universals of language are mere statistical tendencies and given a variety of findings in the domains of language acquisition and change cf. Croft ; Tomasello , it has become increasingly clear that the assumption of a domain-specific language faculty is highly questionable. However, that is all the more reason to do away with theoretical preconceptions and non-falsifiable assumptions such as Universal Grammar. Instead, we should try to find answers to the key question what a language actually is in a bottom-up, data-driven way.

Having seen a couple of his talks, I do admit that Chomsky still rocks. But when it comes to linguistics, I prefer evidence from actual language data to the theories and hypotheses of an intellectual rock star. In: PLoS One 9. Bickerton, Derek : More than Nature Needs. Language, Mind, and Evolution. Harvard: Hardvard University Press. Blevins, Juliette : Evolutionary Phonology. The Emergence of Sound Patterns. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Christiansen, Morten H. In: Behavioral and Brain Sciences 31, — Croft, William : Radical Construction Grammar. Syntactic Theory in Typological Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Deacon, Terrence W.

Sonia Cristofaro

The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain. New York, London: Norton.


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    The Mathematics of Language Universals | Structures formelles du langage

    In: Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32, — In: Geeraerts, Dirk; Cuyckens, Hubert eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3— Goldberg, Adele E. The Nature of Generalization in Language. Hurford, James R.

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    A Slim Guide. Liberman, Alvin M. In: Psychological Review 74, — Mampe, Birgit; Friederici, Angela D. In: Current Biology 19, Pickering, Martin J. In: Behavioral and Brain Sciences 36, — Rosch, Eleanor : Principles of Categorization. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 27— What is special about speech anyway? In: Developmental Science 10, In: Journal of Neurolinguistics 25, — Create Alert. Share This Paper. Figures and Topics from this paper. Citations Publications citing this paper.


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