Acquisition of particles

Hans Bennis
2013 Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics Plus  
1. The acquisition problem One of the major questions in tlie field of Generative Granunar is tlie question how children are able to acquire their native language. The general answer to tliis question is based on the hypothesis that chidren are bom equipped with a mental language organ that allows them to learn their mother tongue in an efficient, fast and homogeneous manner. Given that the content of this language capacity at this moment cannot be studied in a direct way by doing neurological
more » ... doing neurological and biological experiments, the study of human language competence must be approached through the study of the linguistic output that is (partly) the result of the activities of the linguistic competence. Generative Grammar thus faces the task to provide evidence for the innateness hypothesis by providing analyses of the linguistic output that support an underlying language organ. In this view a particular adult language L is the result of the innate language competence, which is generally referred to as Universal Grammar or UG, and interacting language specific properties that have to be learned during the process of language acquisition. These language specific properties can be divided into two types. First, there are properties that are directly related to UG in the sense that they determine particular choices that are left open within UG. These choices or parameters are fixed during the process of language acquisition on the basis of linguistic evidence the child is exposed to. In addition to the positive evidence that allows the child to fill in UG, the child also has to learn language specific properties of L that cannot be reduced to properties of UG. The linguist that tries to provide evidence for UG on the basis of analysing the language L thus has to distinguish three types of linguistic knowledge that speakers of L possess: knowledge of UG, knowledge of the setting of the parameters, and knowledge of language specific properties of L. It is evident that it is extremely complicated to distinguish these three types of knowledge on the basis of the analysis of a particular linguistic phenomenon in L. At first glance it might be expected that research in the field of generative linguistics would be dominated by the study of first language acquisition. The reason being that if we want to know how the child acquires his first language, we have to study the child in the process of acquisition. A more sophisticated reason to expect the importance of the study of language acquisition is that the child's language is to some extent 'closer' to UG than the adult language, since his language specific knowledge is less extensive. Study of language acquisition thus may give us information about the structure of UG that is not easily obtained in the adult language. However, the actual situation in generative linguistics does not seem to correspond to this picture. Although a lot of research in the field of language acquisition is going on, it is by no means clear that this type of research has a profound influence on the theoretical construction of Universal Grammar. It appears to be the case that studies in language acquisition generally take the theoretical framework as a guideline to analyse particular
doi:10.5842/29-0-97 fatcat:gukwwdohjbc6djph67utmjv4pq