From Historical Antecedents to Computational Modeling
Noam Chomsky’s Cartesian Linguistics frames this inquiry into his linguistic work and the resulting debates between rationalists and empiricists. The focus will be on the following key aspects: (i) the historic connection of Cartesian Linguistics to previous linguistic theorizing, (ii) the evolution of Chomsky’s own theorizing, (iii) the empirical work addressing the problem of language acquisition, and (iv) the problem of computational modeling of language learning. Chomsky claims that his view is situated within a rationalist Cartesian tradition and that only rationalists will be able to account fully for all aspects of human language. This work challenges both claims.
There are only remote similarities between Cartesian and Chomskyan commitments. Chomsky holds that (i) language is species-specific, (ii) language is domain-specific, and (iii) language acquisition depends on innate knowledge. Descartes accepted (i), but argued that language is an indicator of domain-general intelligence. Innate resources play a different role for language acquisition for Chomsky and for Descartes.
Chomsky’s innovative proposals revitalized linguistics during the 1950s, and he has been credited with launching the second cognitive revolution. However, to date, his work has not fulfilled many of the early promises, and recent work has contributed little to a scientific understanding of language acquisition and use. Key concepts like “innateness”, “Universal Grammar”, “I-Language” and “Language Acquisition Device” remain in need of precise definition, the internal coherence of his ontological commitments has been challenged, and the Poverty of the Stimulus Argument does not rule out data-driven domain-general language acquisition....
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