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Formal Principles of Language Acquisition

Formal Principles of Language Acquisition

By: Kenneth Wexler and Peter W. Culicover

The question of language learnability is central to modern linguistics. Yet, despite its importance, research into the problems of language learnability has rarely gone beyond the informal, commonsense intuitions that currently prevail among linguists and psychologists.

By focusing their inquiry on formal language learnability theory—the interface of formal mathematical linguistics, linguistic theory and cognitive psychology—the authors of this book have developed a rigorous and unified theory that opens the study of language learnability to discoveries about the mechanisms of language acquisition in human beings. Their research has important implications for linguistic theory, child language research, and the philosophy of language.

Formal Principles of Language Acquisition develops rigorous mathematical methods for demonstrating the learnability of classes of grammars. It adapts the well-developed theories of transformational grammar to establish psychological motivation for a set of formal constraints on grammars sufficient for learnability. In addition, the research deals with such matters as the complex interaction between the mechanism of language learning and the learning environment, the empirical adequacy of the learnability constraints, feasibility and attainability of classes of grammars, the role of semantics in language learnability, and the adequacy of transformational grammars as models of human linguistic competence.

This first serious and extended development of a formal and precise theory of language learnability will interest researchers in psychology and linguistics, and is recommended for use in graduate courses in language acquisition, linguistic theory, psycholinguistics, and mathematical linguistics, as well as interdisciplinary courses that deal with language learning, use, and philosophy.

Contents: Methodological Considerations; Foundations of a Theory of Learnability; A Learnability Result for Transformational Grammar; Degree-2 Learnability; Linguistic Evidence for the Learnability Constraints; Function, Performance and Explanations; Further Issues: Linguistic Interaction, Invariance Principle, Open Problems; Notes, Bibliography, Index.

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