An Introduction to Psycholinguistics

By Danny D. Steinberg; Natalia V. Sciarini | Go to book overview

Chapter 10
Where does language
knowledge come from?
Intelligence, innate language
ideas, behaviour?

10.1 How do we acquire knowledge?

10.1.1 Perfect circles, God and language

You say the world is not flat. How do you know that this is true? You say you know what a perfect circle is. Did someone tell you? How do you know that what they told you is true? Can your measurement be perfect? You say God exists or does not exist. How do you know this? Do ideas exist? Do we have minds and are there ideas in our minds? We have knowledge but what is it and where did it come from?

The study of the nature and origin of knowledge is a branch of philosophy called ‘epistemology’. In psycholinguistics, we too are interested in epistemology since we are concerned with how a certain kind of knowledge, language knowledge, is acquired. Back in Chapter 1, we discussed how children learn language, but what we did not discuss is how the human infant got started in analyzing and learning a language. Does the human infant use intelligence or innate language ideas, or both? If it is the use of intelligence, are infants then born with this intelligence or do they have to develop it? And if it is the use of innate language ideas, what are those ideas and how are they activated so as to enable the infant to learn language? Or, is it the case that neither are relevant and a study of behaviour conditioning or functions can provide the explanation?

The various philosophical isms that we shall be concerned with in this chapter, Empiricism, Rationalism, Behaviourism, and to a lesser extent Philosophical Functionalism (to be distinguished from Linguistic Functionalism), are types of explanations that have been given in response to the question of how it is possible for language to develop in the child and to be used by mature speakers. We shall be assessing the different explanations offered

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