Syntactic Theory and First Language Acquisition: Cross-Linguistic Perspectives - Vol. 1

Syntactic Theory and First Language Acquisition: Cross-Linguistic Perspectives - Vol. 1

Syntactic Theory and First Language Acquisition: Cross-Linguistic Perspectives - Vol. 1

Syntactic Theory and First Language Acquisition: Cross-Linguistic Perspectives - Vol. 1


Universal Grammar (UG) is a theory of both the fundamental principles for all possible languages and the language faculty in the "initial state" of the human organism. These two volumes approach the study of UG by joint, tightly linked studies of both linguistic theory and human competence for language acquisition. In particular, the volumes collect comparable studies across a number of different languages, carefully analyzed by a wide range of international scholars.

The issues surrounding cross-linguistic variation in "Heads, Projections, and Learnability" (Volume 1) and in "Binding, Dependencies, and Learnability" (Volume 2) are arguably the most fundamental in UG. How can principles of grammar be learned by general learning theory? What is biologically programmed in the human species in order to guarantee their learnability? What is the true linguistic representation for these areas of language knowledge? What universals exist across languages?

The two volumes summarize the most critical current proposals in each area, and offer both theoretical and empirical evidence bearing on them. Research on first language acquisition and formal learnability theory is placed at the center of debates relative to linguistic theory in each area. The convergence of research across several different disciplines -- linguistics, developmental psychology, and computer science -- represented in these volumes provides a paradigm example of cognitive science.


The common objective of the chapters in this volume is to develop a constrained theory of phrase structure variation for UG or Universal Grammar, seen as the central component of the theory of adult linguistic knowledge and the theory of first language acquisition. Recognition of the common importance of this objective represents an important stage in he development of both theories.

The central motivating principle of research in the paradigm of generative grammar for the past 35 years has been the hypothesis that innate grammatical knowledge not only constrains the range of variation among adult grammars but also shapes the task of the first language learner. Given the status of this hypothesis, it is perhaps surprising that research focusing simultaneously on cross-linguistic data and data from first language acquisition has not taken an earlier and more prominent place in the generative tradition. The reason that it has not is that, through much of its history, generative linguistics has had little more to say about cross-linguistic variation than did its predecessors. Generative syntax, for example, provided for much of its existence a descriptive framework for characterizing structural variation but no important restrictions on the range of possible descriptions, to the point that it was virtually (but ironically) in keeping with Joos' (1958) famous characterization, "languages can differ without limit as to either extent or direction" (p. 228).

The past 10 years have seen an important change in this situation, and it is this change that motivates the timing of our collection. Many of the . . .

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