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UNIVERSAL GRAMMAR

Universal grammar is a theory in linguistics that suggests that there are properties that all possible natural human languages have. There are certain fundamental grammatical ideas which all humans possess, without having to learn them. Universal grammar acts as a way to explain how language acquisition works in humans, by showing the most basic rules that all languages have to follow. Usually credited to Noam Chomsky, the theory suggests that some rules of grammar are hard wired into the brain, and manifest themselves without being taught. !n turn, there is an assumption that all languages have a common structural basis. This set of rules is known as ‘Universal Grammar’. "tymologically, the concept of universal grammar has been traced to the observation of #oger $acon, a %&th century 'ranciscan friar and philosopher that all languages are built upon a common grammar. The expression was populari(ed in the %)*+s and %),+s by Noam Chomsky and other linguists. -e defines Universal .rammar as/
‘Universal Grammar is the system of principles, conditions and rules which are elements or properties of all human languages--- the essence of human language.’

0peakers proficient in a language know what expressions are acceptable in their language and what expressions are unacceptable. The key pu((le is how speakers should come to know the restrictions of their language, since expressions which violate those restrictions are not present in the input, indicated as such. The presence of Creole languages is sometimes cited as further support for this theory. Creoles are languages that are developed and formed when different societies come together and are forced to devise their own system of communication. The system used by the original speakers is typically an inconsistent mix of vocabulary items known as a pidgin. 1s these speakers2 children begin to acquire their first language, they use the pidgin input to effectively create their own original language, known as a Creole. Unlike pidgins, creoles have native speakers and make use of a full grammar.

3eople who know a language know universal grammar. -ow4 This is a version of what is called 3lato2s problem which, as stated by $ertrand #ussell, goes like this/ "How comes it that human eings, whose contacts with the
world are !now""

rief and personal and limited, are a le to !now as much as they do

!n short, how do we learn so much on the basis of so little evidence4 3lato2s answer was that much knowledge is from earlier existence and merely reawakened. The modern alternative explanation that Chomsky proposes is
that "certain aspects of our !nowledge and understanding are innate, part of our iological endowment, genetically determined, on a par with the elements of our common nature that cause us to grow arms and legs rather than wings."

POVERTY OF STIMULUS
5ne of the main impetuses for the development of a modern theory of universal grammar is the question of how early language learners know that certain phrases are ungrammatical. Children acquire language by listening to native speakers around them. $ut, by virtue of being proficient speakers, native speakers don6t go around saying everything that is ungrammatical and saying it6s wrong. This is often called the #overty of $timulus argument, and universal grammar attempts to explain it by saying that a number of these restrictions are part of a universal grammar.

PRINCIPLES OF UNIVERSAL GRAMMAR
%. Structure-Dependence Consider the following sentences/ %. Neha ran to the school. 7. Neha school bhagi. 0entence 8%9 is in "nglish and 8s9 is in -indi Urdu. Now we simply cannot put these sentences in any order we like. :e also cannot give a general rule that one particular word, for example, school, will always come at the beginning of the sentence or immediately after the sub;ect. :e shall have to consider the structure of the sentence. :e can6t ignore the structure of sentences in any language in order to grasp the accurate meanings. This means we must consider whether a word is a noun, verb, a preposition, and so on. These are syntactic categories, and structure depends upon them. !n other words, no matter which language we use, any rules which produce well formed sentences in that language must be structure dependent. This structure-dependence is therefore a universal principle. !t applies to all human languages. &. The Head Parameters !n linguistics, the head of a phrase is the word that determines the syntactic type of that phrase. 'or instance, in the N3 <=a girl’ the head is the N 8=girl9. !n talking about the head parameter, we are concerned with the place of the head in various languages. 'he shared or universal fact is that all languages have phrases with heads, i.e. (#, )#, ##, and so on, but the head may be either at the beginning of the phrase or at its end. Thus, the head parameter varies from language to language. >et us look at the placing of the head in Urdu -indi and "nglish. %. The answer (# 7. ?awab (# is correct. 8"nglish9 )# thekh hai. 8Urdu9 )#

0

0

N3

@3

N3

@3

Aet.

N

@

1d; 3 1d;.

N

1d; 3 1d;.

@

'he

answer

is

correct.

*awa

the!h

hai.

!n sentence 8%9, the verb phrase is ‘=is correct’ and the verb is ‘=is’. This verb ‘=is’ is the head of this phrase and it comes on the left. !n Urdu sentence 879, the @3 ‘=thekh hai’ and @ ‘=hai’B that is to say, the head comes on the right. 0imilarly in ?apanese the head comes at the end of the @3. This feature is common to Urdu -indi, 3un;abi, and so on, but it is not shared with "nglish. 'hus, in the choice of placing the head in a phrase +i.e.
filling the head parameter,, Universal Grammar gives us two possi ilities- the head can e first or last in the phrase.

.. The Projection Principle "very word or lexical item has properties which decide whether it is suitable or unsuitable for playing a certain role within the syntax of any given sentence. !n other words, every native speaker has a dictionary of lexical items of his or her language in the mind and a system of rules as to where they will be used. These rules tell the speaker where to put in a word. 'or example, consider the following sentence/ I put my car in the garage. The verb <put6 is always followed by a N3 or a 33 of location. -ere it is followed by the N3 8=my car9 and the 33 8=in the garage9. ?ust saying • I put. • I put the car. • I put in the garage. would be ungrammatical. Thus we can sub categori(e put as follows/ 3UT 8=@9 N3 33 ClocD.

That is to say, put is a verb which must be followed by a N3 and a 33 of location. 0imilarly Ayesha prefers could drink. 8Correct9 Ayesha prefers. 8!ncorrect9 0ome verbs are not followed by N3. They are called intransitive ver s. 'or instance Peter fainted. 8Correct9 Peter fainted the cat. 8!ncorrect9 Unless we are talking about the world of make believe, we cannot say/ The stone talked to me. The sentence is syntactically perfect but in the world we live in stones do not talk. Thus the noun stone has different properties from the noun girl 8who can talk9. This is how the semantic properties of nouns and verbs are pro;ected onto the syntax and in a sense, pre determine the structure of a sentence. Thus we can give the general principle that/ ‘'he properties of le/ical entries are pro0ected onto the synta/ of the sentence.’ The information given

in a word 8lexical information9 is represented in the way the sentence is constructed 8syntactical representation9. This is called the pro;ection principle.

APPLICATIONS OF UNIVERSAL GRAMMAR Linguistic ni!ersals

Characteristics that all languages share are called linguistic universals. There two types of universals are absolute and statistical. 1 solute universals are those that are true in all known cases. 'or example, “all languages have pronouns” is an absolute universal. $tatistical universals are better known as tendencies because they are true only in the ma;ority of cases, not all. >inguist ?oseph .reenberg developed forty five universals from his study of approximately thirty languages, and almost all of them were implicational. This type of universal takes the form of an if-then statement, such as, “if a language is spoken, then it has consonants and vowels”.

(on-implicational universals are straightforward declarative statements. 'or example, the sentence “all languages have nouns and verbs,” is a non implicational universal.

LANGUAGE ACQUISITION DEVICE (LAD)
0cientists also conduct cognitive studies based on universal grammar. 5ne theory within universal grammar states that everyone is born with a 2anguage 1c3uisition 4evice +214,. The >1A is a portion of the brain which knows all linguistic universals automatically and enables children to quickly learn a language. 3roducing a sentence in a language may be compared to the process of getting results out of a computer. The computer is programmed and arranges items according to the instructions given to it. !t is equipped to process information in a certain way. >ook at the following sentences of "nglish. 8%9 ! went home. This arrangement is known as syntax, and some rule in our brain tells us that the correct order is as in 8%9 and not as in the following sentence. 879 :ent home !. 5bviously 8%9 is a sentence in "nglish, and your mind, can only tell you that it is correct 8or well formed9 if you are a native speaker of "nglish or know "nglish quite well. .iven any utterance in your own mother tongue, you will be able to ;udge whether it is well formed or not. Chomsky is very much interested in these inward rules and principles of our mind and feels that we can understand how the mind actually works if we can find out how it produces language. This means that Chomsky6s approach to language is mentalist, i.e. it is based upon understanding mental phenomena. 0ince language learning is more difficult for adults than children, the critical period hypothesis states that the >1A degenerates or becomes increasingly difficult to access as a child grows. $oth applications of universal grammar could greatly increase the ability and ease of learning languages. 'or example, someone who knows all linguistic universals would have a great advantage for learning every natural language. !n addition, if scientists discovered an >1A and learned how to access it throughout life, elderly people might be able to learn languages with the ease of a preschooler.
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