MPhil/Ph.D Research Seminar
Second Semester, 2008
Linguistic Nativism Reconsidered
Department of Philosophy
Arguments from the poverty of the stimulus (APS) have been used to motivate a strong
form of linguistic nativism. They have been invoked as justification for positing a richly
endowed language faculty, or Universal Grammar, that imposes elaborate constraints on the
set of possible natural languages. The language faculty is presented as a biologically
determined cognitive device which drives language acquisition on the basis of exposure to
linguistic data that is, in itself, insufficient to support grammar induction through domain
general learning procedures. This variety of linguistic nativism has played a defining role
in linguistic theory and cognitive science over the past five decades.
In this seminar we re-visit leading versions of the APS and subject them to critical
evaluation in light of recent work in computational linguistics, computational learning theory,
psycholinguistics, and theoretical linguistics. We consider what these arguments achieve, and
we explore possible alternatives to the claims that they make concerning language acquisition.
The result is a far reaching revision of long dominant views concerning the nature of the
grammar induction process and the object of knowledge acquired through this process.
The seminar is based on a course that Alex
Clark (Computer Science, Royal Holloway,
and I co-taught at the LSA Linguistics Summer Institute in Stanford in July 2007. This course,
in turn, developed out of advanced graduate seminars and research that Alex and I have been doing
jointly and individually over the past several years. We are in the process of writing
a monograph on the issues addressed in the seminar, and the feedback that we receive from
participants will be helpful to us in formulating and revising some of the leading ideas of
The seminar will meet weekly from
January 8 until
(reading week) and March 4 (RAE Linguistic Panel meeting)
Location: Seminar Room, Department
of Philosophy, King's College
The seminar will approach the issue of grammar induction and the cognitive foundations of
natural language from an interdisciplinary perspective. It is intended for MPhil and Ph.D
research students, and interested faculty in philosophy, linguistics, computer science,
psychology, and cognitive science. Everyone is welcome.
1. Laurence, S. and Margolis, E. "The Poverty of the Stimulus Argument", British Journal
for the Philosophy of Science, 2001, 52, 217-276, June.
2. Chomsky, N. (1981), Chapter 1, Lectures
on Government and Binding, Foris,
2. January 15: A Debate about the Evidence
1. Pullum, G. and B. Scholz (2002), "Empirical Assemssment of Stimulus Poverty Arguments",
The Linguistic Review 19, pp. 9-50.
2. Legate, J. and C. Yang (2002), "Empirical Re-Assessment of Stimulus Poverty Arguments",
The Linguistic Review 19, pp. 151-162.
3. January 22: Negative Evidence I:
1. Chouinard, M. and E. Clark (2003), "Adult Reformulations of Child Errors as Negative
Evidence", Journal of Child Language 30, pp. 637-669.
2. Marcus, G. (1993), "Negative Evidence in Language Acquisition", Cognition 46, pp.43-85.
4. January 29: Negative Evidence II
Testing Assumptions about the Input: Empirical Evidence about Negative Evidence
Department of Psychology and Human Development
1. Saxton, Matthew (1997), "The Contrast Theory of Negative Input", Journal of Child Language
24, pp. 139-161.
2. Saxton, M., C. Houston-Rice, and
Requests as Corrective Input for Grammatical Errors", Applied Psycholinguistics 26,
5. February 5: Grammar Induction through Machine Learning
1. Clark, A. and R. Eyraud (2006), "Learning Auxiliary Fronting with Grammatical Inference",
CONLL X (http://www.cs.rhul.ac.uk/home/alexc/papers/conll2006clarkFinal.pdf).
2. Klein, D. and C. Manning (2004), "Corpus-Based Induction of Syntactic Structure: Models
of Dependency and Constitutency", Proceedings of the 42th Annual Meeting of the
Association for Computational Linguistics,
3. Bod, R. (2006), "An All-Subtrees Approach to Unsupervised Learning", Proceedings of the
ACL-COLING 2006, pp. 865-872.
6. February 12: Reading Week
7. February 19: Computational Learning Theory I
1. Gold, E.M. (1967), "Language Identification in the Limit", Information and Control 10,
2. Lappin, S. and S. Shieber (2007), "Machine Learning Theory and Practise as a Source of
Insight into Universal Grammar", Journal of Linguistics 43, pp. 293-427
3. Peirera, F. (2000), "Formal Grammar and Information Theory: Together Again?",
Philosophical Transactions of the
Royal Society, Royal Society,
8. February 26: Computational Learning Theory II
Formalising Learnability for First Language Acquisition
Department of Computer Science
Royal Holloway College, University of London
Symposium on Interdisciplinary Approaches to Language Learning,
2. Clark, A. and Franck Thollard (2004), "Partially Distribution-Free Learning of Regular
Languages from Positive Samples", Proceedings of COLING 2004, pp. 85-91
3. Nowak, M, N. L. Komarova, and P. Niyogi (2002), "Computational and Evolutionary Aspects of
Language", Nature 411, pp. 611-617.
9. March 4: No seminar (RAE Linguistics Panel Meeting)
10. March 11: Parameters in Strong and Weak Bias Language Models
1. Lappin, S. and S. Shieber (2007), "Machine Learning Theory and Practise as a Source of
Insight into Universal Grammar", Journal of Linguistics 43, pp. 293-427
2. Newmeyer, F.
(2005), Possible and Probable Languages,
11. March 18: Statistical Learning in Language Acquisition
1. Weiss, D. and
a Comparative Approach”, Infancy 2, pp. 241-257.
2. Thompson, S. and
Probability”, Language Learning and Development 3, pp. 1-42.
Structure: Distributional Learning in a Miniature Language”, Cognitive Psychology.
Special issue of the Linguistic Review (2002), volume 19, pp 1-223.
Abney, S. (1996), "Statistical Methods and Linguistics" in The Balancing Act: Combining Symbolic
and Statistical Approaches to Language, edited by Judith Klavans, Philip Resnik, pp.1-26.
Baker, M. (2001), The Atoms of Language: The Mind's Hidden Rules of Grammar, Basic Books,
Bresnan, J., A. Cueni, T. Nikitina, and H Baayen. (2005), "Predicting the Dative Alternation",
to appear in Royal Netherlands Academy of Science Workshop on Foundations of Interpretation
Charniak, E. (1997), "Statistical Parsing with Context-Free Grammar and Word Statistics",
Proceedinsg of the Fourteenth National Conference on Artificial Intelligence, pp. 598-603.
N. (1957), Syntactic Structures, Mouton,
N. (1986), Knowledge of Language,
N. (1995), The Minimalist Program, MIT
Chomsky, N. (2005), "Three Factors in Language Design", Linguistic Inquiry 36, pp. 1-21.
Clark, A. (2003), Combining Distributional and Morphological Information for Part of Speech
Induction", Proceedings of the 10th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Computational
Clark, A. (2004), "Grammatical Inference and First Language Acquisition", Workshop on
Psychocomputational Models of Human Language Acquisition,
Cowie (1999), What's Within? Nativism
Diessel, H. and M. Tomasello (2005), "A New Look at the Acquisition of Relative Clauses", Language 81,
Fernandez, R., J. Ginzburg, and S. Lappin (2007), "Classifying Non-Sentential Utterances in Dialogue:
A Machine Learning Approach", Computational Linguistics 33(3), pp. 397-427.
Gibson, E. and K. Wexler (1994), "Triggers", Linguistic Inquiry 25, pp. 407-454.
Goldsmith, J. (2001), "Unsupervised Learning of the Morphology of a natural Language", Computational
Linguistics 27, pp. 153-198.
Z. (1951), Structural Linguistics,
Jurafsky, D. and J. Martin (2000), Speech and Language Processing, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle
Klein, D. and C. Manning (2002), "A Generative Constituent-Contex Model for Improved Grammar
Induction", Proceedings of the 40th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational
Linguistics, pp. 128-135.
Lappin, S. (2005), "Machine Learning and the Cognitive Basis of Natural Language", Proceedings of
Computational Linguistics in the
Lasnik, H. and J. Uriagareka (2002), "On the Poverty of the Challenge", The Linguistic Review 19,
MacWhinney, B, (2004), "Multiple Process Solution to the Logical Problem of Language Acquisiton",
Journal of Child Language 31, pp. 883-914.
MacWhinney, B. (2005), "Item-Based Constructions and the Logical Problem", Proceedings of the Second
Workshop on Psychocomputational Models of Human Language Acquisition, Association of Computational
Linguistics, pp. 53-68.
Manning, C. and H. Schuetze (1999), Foundations of Statistical Language Processing, MIT Press,
Newmeyer, F. (2004), "Against a Parameter-Setting Approach to Typogical Variation", Linguistic Variation
Yearbook 4, pp. 182-234.
P. (2006), The Computational Nature of
Language Learning and Evolution, MIT Press,
Perfors, A., J. Tenenbaum, and T. Regier (2006), "Poverty of the Stimulus? A Rational Approach",
Proceedings of Cognitive Science 2006.
Pinker, Steven, 1979 "Formal Models of Language Learning", Cognition 7, 217-282.
J., R. Aslin, and
274, pp. 1926-1928.
Scholz, B. and G. Pullum (2006), "Irrational Nativist Exuberance" in Robert Stainton (ed.), Debates
Tomasello, M. (2003), Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition,
Wexler, Ken (1991), "On the Argument from the Poverty of the Stimulus", in The Chomskyan Turn,
ed. Kasher, Asa, Blackwell,
C. (2002), Knowledge
and Learning in Natural Language,
Yang, C. (2004), "Universal Grammar, Statistics, or Both?", Trends in Cognitive Sciences 10,