The classic evidence for linguistic nativism is based on the argument from the poverty of stimulus: children master principles of amazing intricacy in the absence of relevant experience. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate experimentally that second language acquisition provides comparable evidence for the existence of inborn linguistic principles. The phenomenon used in this study involves case particle deletion in Japanese, which is possible in direct objects but not subjects — an asymmetry that follows from the Empty Category Principle (ECP), an innate grammatical principle. The results of my experiment show that English-speaking adult learners of Japanese are able to make this contrast and that this ability must be attributed to knowledge of the ECP rather than to the effects of experience or instruction. Thus, data from second language acquisition provides evidence to support linguistic nativism.
Bickerton (1981, 1984a) proposed the Language Bioprogram Hypothesis to account for commonalties among genetically unrelated creole languages. In support of this theory he argues that some phenomena in first language acquisition cannot be explained without such a bioprogram. In particular, he proposed that the acquisition of tense-aspect morphology in French, Italian, English, and Turkish can only be accounted for by assuming that children know in advance the distinctions between State and Process and between Punctual and Non-Punctual. This paper proposes an alternative account which does not rely on an innate bioprogram. Based on previous studies of the acquisition of verb morphology and the distributional pattern in native speech in various languages, this paper argues that the acquisitional pattern which Bickerton attributes to innate knowledge can be accounted for by distributional bias in the input. Essentially, this paper proposes that children form their initial prototypes of tense-aspect markers based in part on the correlational bias between verb types and tense-aspect markers in the input they are exposed to. This paper concludes with a caution against relying on innateness explanations for language acquisition phenomena without exploring other possible explanations.
Children learn new words at a prodigious rate, over nine words a day during early childhood. Further, they often converge on the adult meaning of a new word after hearing it only a few times in a single context. As many have noted, the inductive processes that underlie such efficient word learning must be highly constrained. One source of constraint derives from the fact that words in different syntactic categories differ systematically in meaning. Young children exploit information about syntactic subcategorization to inform their hypotheses about word meanings. This paper asks to what extent such constraints reflect prelinguistic cognitive architecture, i.e., conceptual distinctions antecedently available to constrain syntax acquisition as well as word learning, and to what extent such constraints reflect language specific, culturally constructed, conceptual categories which must be induced in the course of language learning. This question is explored via a case study within the domain of noun semantics and the representation of number, five aspects of which are examined: the representations of integers in counting sequences (“one, two, three…”), quantifiers such as one, another, the criteria for individuation and identity embodied in the sortal concepts the language lexicalizes, the distinction between count and mass nouns, and the distinction between count nouns and predicates. In this paper I sketch data from infant studies that suggest that all but the first of these (the representations of integers) are part of prelinguistic cognitive architecture. These elements of constraints on word meanings are not induced from language learning; rather language learning, including lexical learning, builds upon them.
Some researchers have tried to explain early word learning by invoking linguistically specific “constraints” that help children to narrow down the referential possibilities. The social pragmatic approach to word learning argues that children do not need specifically linguistic constraints to learn words, but rather what they need are flexible and powerful social-cognitive skills that allow them to understand the communicative intentions of others in a wide range of interactive situations. A series of seven word learning studies demonstrate something of the range of communicative situations in which children can learn new words. These situations include many non-ostensive contexts in which no one is intentionally teaching the child a new word and the intended referent is not perceptually present at the time of the new word's introduction. And all of the experimental situations were constructed so that none of the best known word learning constraints could help children to identify the speaker's intended referent. These studies do not demonstrate that specifically linguistic constraints are not necessary for word learning, but they do demonstrate that such constraints are not sufficient.
Researchers have agreed that children learn words in a principled (e.g., Carey, 1982; Markman, 1989). Several important word learning principles, including the whole object assumption, the taxonomic assumption, the shape bias, the mutual exclusivity assumption, have been suggested (Markman, 1989, 1992; Landau, Smith, & Jones, 1988; Imai, Gentner, & Uchida, 1994). However, there has been an unsettled debate in the literature as to the exact nature of these principles, particularly with respect to their origin. In this paper, I discuss the origin of the whole object assumption and taxonomic assumption, especially in light of innateness and domain- specificity. Reviewing the literature of children's early word production and comprehension and that of crosslinguistic comparison of early vocabulary development, I suggest that the whole-object and taxonomic assumptions are likely to be universally applied independent of the structure of linguistic input but that these principles are not necessarily applied at the onset of word learning. I argue that it is not likely that the whole-object and taxonomic assumptions are innately specified as abstract rules. I argue that these word-learning principles are formed from a combination of domain general, basic cognitive facilities (such as detecting similarity among entities and putting similar things together to form categories, and extracting and generating abstract rules from a small amount of experience) and domain specific, pre-linguistically available ontological knowledge about the world. Finally, I evaluate the necessity of the whole-object assumption and the taxonomic assumption in the face of the position that social-pragmatic force is sufficient to guide word learning.
Pointing to an object and saying a word is an ambiguous form of reference, because there are an indefinite number of logically possible hypotheses about the meaning of a word. But children are very proficient at learning words. That led us to postulate constraints on the hypotheses that children consider about the meanings of words. In fact, the previous studies have shown that children aged two or over are highly biased word learners (Landau et al., 1988; Merriman & Schuster, 1991). Much of the debate has centered on whether this idea of constraints implies innate and fixed word learning principles, and whether these principles are by nature domain-specific. This paper reviewed the studies concerned with this debate. The previous studies showed that those learning principles emerged in the course of early word learning (Jones et al., 1992), and that children's use of them became more domain-specific with age (Smith et al, 1994). These findings suggest that the principles and the domain-specific use of them may be the consequence of word learning, not innate. But following two facts are notable. First, young children rapidly find the principles in the course of learning first 50 words, although it is difficult for children of this age to examine possible hypotheses systematically. Second, some findings (Haryu, 1996; Smith et al., 1996) suggest that the use of principles in early word learning is not accesible to deliberate control. These facts lead me to assume that infants are born, not with some concrete beliefs about word meanings, but with some constrained mechanism that guides infant's learning the principles about word meanings.
The last few decades have seen a rise in nativist accounts of the development of cognition and language. One reason for this is that the field of cognitive development has experienced great gains in the sophistication with which we describe human knowledge, with no corresponding gain in the sophistication of our process accounts. In particular, we argue that our field is saddled with a behaviorist view of similarity. We propose to replace this view with structure-mapping account, in which comparison is seen as a process of structural alignment and mapping. Our main contention in this paper is that the process of comparison constitutes an important force by which similarity-based processes can give rise to rule-governed systems. We will begin by laying out a developmental framework that we call “the career of similarity.” Then we apply this framework first to the general issue of the development of rules in learning and reasoning, and then to language learning, specifically the acquisition of word meaning.
Critical thinking is important to judge and diagnose plausibility of given information and to generate new information which can improve the old one. Two experiments were conducted to investigate the effect of writing on critical reading of an expository text. Experiment 1 examined whether a writing task helped Japanese undergraduate students, who are said to be less active in an analytic reading, critically read a short experimental research report. In Experiment 1 the subjects read a report, and then they responded to leading questions as they freely reread the text. The subjects also spoke aloud what they were thinking. Half of the subjects wrote down their responses (Writing Group), and the other half responded only orally (Oral Group). Constructive critiques the subjects generated while they worked with the text were analyzed. The number of critiques was significantly higher for the writing group than the oral group. Experiment 2 examined the effect of the external storage function of writing on critical reading. The number of critiques was significantly higher for the writing group than an “invisible writing” group in which subjects could not see what they wrote and a reading group in which subjects internally did the critiquing task. The findings suggest that the external storage function of writing promotes judging and diagnosing plausibility of the given information, that is, critical thinking in reading.