in Language Learning
Lila R. Gleitman
University of Pennsylvania
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
Language is learned, in the normal course of events, by children bright or dull, pampered or neglected, exposed to Tlingit or to English. In Leonard Bloom‐ field's words, "This is doubtless the greatest intellectual feat any one of us is ever required to perform" (1933, p. 29). Appreciation of the enormity of this human capacity, given the intricacy and variety of the languages of the world, has motivated an intense exploration of language learning by linguists and psychologists alike. Both in topic and in theoretical orientation, these approaches vary marvelously. If there is an anchoring point for the disparate efforts, it is Chomsky's break with the Bloomfieldian tradition of language study and, as a particular consequence, his analysis of the logic of language learning. In this chapter, we first review this paradigmatic change in the theory of language learning. Thereafter, we organize current findings in the field as they bear on these two opposing theoretical positions.
Leonard Bloomfield and Noam Chomsky, in succession, utterly dominated the field of linguistics for periods extending over three decades. Within these time periods it is small overstatement that investigating language was a matter of agreeing or disagreeing in detail with the programs developed by these thinkers. Such a history is commonplace in science; for example, the study of learning in