Forum Lecture

Michael Tomasello (MPI-EVA Leipzig)

"Where does grammar come from?"

Thursday, 9 July 2009, 7:30 pm
2050 Valley Life Sciences Building

The grammars of particular languages derive from processes taking place in three distinct time frames. First, the human species is biologically evolved for cooperative, conventional, symbolic communication — as made clear by comparative studies of ape and human communication. Second, particular cultures or linguistic communities conventionalize or grammaticalize their own linguistic constructions — as made clear by typological and historical studies. And third, individual human beings acquire the particular linguistic conventions and constructions being used by those around them — and re-construct something approximating the same abstractions — by participating in linguistic discourse with mature speakers. In each of these three time frames the process is both enabled and constrained by basic processes of human cognition, social cognition, and vocal-auditory processing. There is currently no coherent proposal of how anything like an innate universal grammar might contribute to this process.

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