Universal grammar

The Universal Grammar (UG ) is a basic in some theories of linguistics assumption, which postulates that all (human) languages ​​common grammatical principles followed and that these principles are innate to all people. Noam Chomsky is one of the founders and the most famous representative of the adoption of the Universal Grammar. The term universal grammar is strictly distinguished from the universals.

Within the framework of generative transformational grammar you went there for a long time assumed that the universal grammar only consists of a set of rules that allowed children to create hypotheses about possible underlying grammars during language acquisition on the basis of their disposal verbal input and this to evaluate (see also Language Acquisition Device). This view was abandoned during the development of the so-called principles - and - parameters theory; whose basic assumption is essentially that all natural languages ​​the same grammatical rules are based. So must in language acquisition is no longer the one language underlying grammatical principles are self-taught ( because they are always the same and the knowledge about innate ), but it only has the expression of certain linguistic parameters (such as Head -first versus Head load ) are detected. In more recent syntactic theories beyond is usually assumed that linguistic variation is completely restricted to the lexicon - ie grammatical parameters only affect the functional properties of lexical elements, and language acquisition as a whole can be reduced to lexicon acquisition. Chomsky now appeals to the fact that the core of the human language faculty contains only the recursion, since this is the only ( associated with language ) ability that only humans possess (language ability in the narrower sense). The ability to speak in a broad sense comprising, for example, then the sensory-motor system comprising, inter alia, the telephone set.

Of fundamental importance is the universal grammar in optimality theory. All there postulated restrictions are to be regarded as part of universal grammar. Linguistic differences arise by acceptance of the weighting of the individual restrictions.


Critique of the concept of universal grammar is, inter alia, of behavioral side. At issue is not whether linguistic behavior has both ontogenetic and phylogenetic conditions, but if there must be an innate mechanism that limits the arrangement of elementary linguistic behavior. All arguments which would led to an innate grammar into the field merely confirmed that the ability to speak for the individual useful (ie, a survival benefit ) is. They did not justify a universal grammar and they did not explain why an organism would have a disadvantage in the struggle for survival, if he did not keep to certain rules of grammar. In addition, animals (Stare ) seem to have the skills that previously were considered universal feature only the human language faculty.

Stephen C. Levinson and Nicholas Evans criticize that very many different models of universal grammar are used in generative linguistics and their defenders to pick out from these different models and approaches each required for their position parts. Thus, it is not possible to formulate a coherent alternative hypothesis and test.

Michael Tomasello believes that the adoption of a universal grammar is unnecessary because the language acquisition by general learning processes and the development of social-cognitive skills ( such as joint attention, or the capabilities, intentions of other actors capture ) can be explained. He also criticized the fact that there is no agreement on what is to contain the universal grammar.

With its claim that the Pirahã language is a counterexample to the Chomsky 's universal grammar, as there is no recursion (and hence also embedded sentences ) give in it, the linguist Daniel Everett has attracted some attention. He bases this mainly with the nature of the culture of the Pirahã, which is fixed exclusively on the present: the Pirahã have no creation myths, to tell stories and usually do not remember the dead. His statements, however, were strongly criticized and it was a faulty analysis of the speech data accused. Thus, this is indeed a famous, but also very controversial counterexample.

Christiansen and Chater (2008) have argued that a biological, ie genetic, deterministic universal grammar is evolutionarily implausible, because language change is progressing much faster than genetic change. Language thus provides a " moving target " and does not represent robust development environment for potential language genes. The original language must be at the beginning of a cultural product with high variability have been, and it is through evolutionary mechanisms can not be explained, as should have been genetically fixed. The human brain is thus not adapted to language (as it is assumed in Chomsky's tradition ): the UG principles are arbitrary, ie they are not related to cognitive principles or mechanisms of learning, but language is adapted to the brain; it is formed by general learning mechanisms and processing preferences, to exercise the adaptive constraints on language. Language is regarded as " Organism ", which in the course of evolution always better to its environment, where the human brain adapts. With this view, it is easier to explain why linguistic structures are so complex and yet to learn: language follows the general cognitive principles and is shaped so that it is easy to apply as possible. Christiansen and Chater do not exclude that language had an impact on the evolution of hominids ( good language skills could have increased reproductive success ), but emphasize that the need for language to adapt to the human brain, is much greater than the constraints on human to use language. Language use is only one of many adaptive constraints that affect people, while language is the only adaptive constraint is the ( possible slight ) learning and processing by the human brain.