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Entangled parametric hierarchies: problems for an overspecified universal grammar.

Boeckx C, Leivada E - PLoS ONE (2013)

Bottom Line: A novel program-based analysis is implemented in order to show certain empirical problems related to these hierarchies.The program was developed on the basis of an enriched data base spanning 23 contemporary and 5 ancient languages.Pinpointing these issues leads to the proposal that (i) the (bio)logical problem of language acquisition does not amount to a process of triggering innately pre-wired values of parameters and (ii) it paves the way for viewing language, epigenetic ('parametric') variation as an externalization-related epiphenomenon, whose learning component may be more important than what sometimes is assumed.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: ICREA, Barcelona, Spain ; Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.

ABSTRACT
This study addresses the feasibility of the classical notion of parameter in linguistic theory from the perspective of parametric hierarchies. A novel program-based analysis is implemented in order to show certain empirical problems related to these hierarchies. The program was developed on the basis of an enriched data base spanning 23 contemporary and 5 ancient languages. The empirical issues uncovered cast doubt on classical parametric models of language acquisition as well as on the conceptualization of an overspecified Universal Grammar that has parameters among its primitives. Pinpointing these issues leads to the proposal that (i) the (bio)logical problem of language acquisition does not amount to a process of triggering innately pre-wired values of parameters and (ii) it paves the way for viewing language, epigenetic ('parametric') variation as an externalization-related epiphenomenon, whose learning component may be more important than what sometimes is assumed.

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An example of parametric hierarchies [11].
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pone-0072357-g001: An example of parametric hierarchies [11].

Mentions: Before presenting how the program-based calculation of these parametric hierarchies identifies certain empirical problems and thus offers arguments against a parametric approach to UG, it should be noted that such hierarchies are meant to organize the space of variation in a way that makes the acquisition task less burdensome [14]. As mentioned above, the notion of parameter was not intended to assume thousands of minimal points of variation as all falling within UG but instead aimed to make certain predictions with respect to the existence of specific parametric paths; for instance, along the lines of the ones presented in [11]. According to such models, UG encapsulates an ordered representation of parameters making available certain hierarchies that start off with a non-dependent parameter at the top of the hierarchy (e.g., the Polysynthesis Parameter; [15]). Obviously, these top parameters have to be set first, since their setting has an impact on the setability of the dependent parameters that follow: in Baker’s words, “an efficient learner should learn in a structured way in which some parameters are entertained first and others later” [14]. This knowledge of the “efficient learner” should be innate, given that these hierarchies are specified in UG; so not only does UG have an array of parameters and their possible values but it is further specified by flagging certain parameters as top as well as by ordering them in certain ways. This state of affairs is theoretically appealing in the sense that it reduces acquisition to a limited range of ‘set-menu’ options (e.g., as in figure 1).


Entangled parametric hierarchies: problems for an overspecified universal grammar.

Boeckx C, Leivada E - PLoS ONE (2013)

An example of parametric hierarchies [11].
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC3760868&req=5

pone-0072357-g001: An example of parametric hierarchies [11].
Mentions: Before presenting how the program-based calculation of these parametric hierarchies identifies certain empirical problems and thus offers arguments against a parametric approach to UG, it should be noted that such hierarchies are meant to organize the space of variation in a way that makes the acquisition task less burdensome [14]. As mentioned above, the notion of parameter was not intended to assume thousands of minimal points of variation as all falling within UG but instead aimed to make certain predictions with respect to the existence of specific parametric paths; for instance, along the lines of the ones presented in [11]. According to such models, UG encapsulates an ordered representation of parameters making available certain hierarchies that start off with a non-dependent parameter at the top of the hierarchy (e.g., the Polysynthesis Parameter; [15]). Obviously, these top parameters have to be set first, since their setting has an impact on the setability of the dependent parameters that follow: in Baker’s words, “an efficient learner should learn in a structured way in which some parameters are entertained first and others later” [14]. This knowledge of the “efficient learner” should be innate, given that these hierarchies are specified in UG; so not only does UG have an array of parameters and their possible values but it is further specified by flagging certain parameters as top as well as by ordering them in certain ways. This state of affairs is theoretically appealing in the sense that it reduces acquisition to a limited range of ‘set-menu’ options (e.g., as in figure 1).

Bottom Line: A novel program-based analysis is implemented in order to show certain empirical problems related to these hierarchies.The program was developed on the basis of an enriched data base spanning 23 contemporary and 5 ancient languages.Pinpointing these issues leads to the proposal that (i) the (bio)logical problem of language acquisition does not amount to a process of triggering innately pre-wired values of parameters and (ii) it paves the way for viewing language, epigenetic ('parametric') variation as an externalization-related epiphenomenon, whose learning component may be more important than what sometimes is assumed.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: ICREA, Barcelona, Spain ; Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.

ABSTRACT
This study addresses the feasibility of the classical notion of parameter in linguistic theory from the perspective of parametric hierarchies. A novel program-based analysis is implemented in order to show certain empirical problems related to these hierarchies. The program was developed on the basis of an enriched data base spanning 23 contemporary and 5 ancient languages. The empirical issues uncovered cast doubt on classical parametric models of language acquisition as well as on the conceptualization of an overspecified Universal Grammar that has parameters among its primitives. Pinpointing these issues leads to the proposal that (i) the (bio)logical problem of language acquisition does not amount to a process of triggering innately pre-wired values of parameters and (ii) it paves the way for viewing language, epigenetic ('parametric') variation as an externalization-related epiphenomenon, whose learning component may be more important than what sometimes is assumed.

Show MeSH