Noam Chomsky is perhaps the best known and the most influential linguist of the second half of the Twentieth Century. He has made a number of strong claims about language : in particular, he suggests that language is an innate faculty - that is to say that we are born with a set of rules about language in our heads which he refers to as the 'Universal Grammar'. The universal grammar is the basis upon which all human languages build. If a Martian linguist were to visit Earth, he would deduce from the evidence that there was only one language, with a number of local variants. Chomsky gives a number of reasons why this should be so. Among the most important of these reasons is the ease with which children acquire their mother tongue. He claims that it would be little short of a miracle if children learnt their language in the same way that they learn mathematics or how to ride a bicycle. This, he says, is because :
- Children are exposed to very little correctly formed language. When people speak, they constantly interrupt themselves, change their minds, make slips of the tongue and so on. Yet children manage to learn their language all the same.
- Children do not simply copy the language that they hear around them. They deduce rules from it, which they can then use to produce sentences that they have never heard before. They do not learn a repertoire of phrases and sayings, as the behaviourists believe, but a grammar that generates an infinity of new sentences.
Last meeting we discussion about noam chomsky’s teory about nativism, then my friend presented it. Noam says that those linguists who do not agree with Chomsky point to several problems, of which I shall mention just four.
- Chomsky differentiates between competence and performance. Performance is what people actually say, which is often ungrammatical, whereas competence is what they instinctively know about the syntax of their language - and this is more or less equated with the Universal Grammar. Chomsky concentrates upon this aspect of language - he thus ignores the things that people actually say. The problem here is that he relies upon people's intuitions as to what is right or wrong - but it is not at all clear that people will all make the same judgements, or that their judgements actually reflect the way people really do use the language.
- Chomsky distinguishes between the 'core' or central grammar of a language, which is essentially founded on the UG, and peripheral grammar. To Chomsky, the real object of linguistic science is the core grammar. But how do we determine what belongs to the core, and what belongs to the periphery? To some observers, all grammar is conventional, and there is no particular reason to make the Chomskian distinction.
- Chomsky also appears to reduce language to its grammar. He seems to regard meaning as secondary - a sentence such as 'Colourless green ideas sleep furiously' may be considered as part of the English language, for it is grammatically correct, and therefore worthy of study by Transformational Grammarians. A sentence such as 'My mother, he no like bananas', on the other hand, is of no interest to the Chomskian linguist. Nor would he be particularly interested in most of the utterances heard in the course of a normal lecture.
- Because he disregards meaning, and the social situation in which language is normally produced, he disregards in particular the situation in which the child learns his first language.
Noam Chomsky’s teory is different with other teory
He evidence from neuroscience and from first-language learning is suggestive. We find a number of observations that do fit in with what we would expect if Chomsky were right. However, the evidence needs to be treated with caution.
We have also seen that Chomsky is certainly incorrect in his claim that children do not hear well-formed language. On the other hand, children do seem to understand almost instinctively that language is a rule-bound system, and are capable of discovering the rules underlying their mother tongue with remarkable rapidity. But it needs to be borne in mind that the fact that children seek out the rules underlying language does not mean that they necessarily have a specific approach to language itself. It may simply be a product of the peculiar nature of human intelligence, which makes us look out for and be sensitive to the underlying rules which govern phenomena in the world - this is one of the main characteristics of all human cultural activities, and not just of language-learning.