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The child's trigger experience: Degree-0 learnability

  • David Lightfoot (a1)

According to a “selective” (as opposed to “instructive”) model of human language capacity, people come to know more than they experience. The discrepancy between experience and eventual capacity (the “poverty of the stimulus”) is bridged by genetically provided information. Hence any hypothesis about the linguistic genotype (or “Universal Grammar,” UG) has consequences for what experience is needed and what form people's mature capacities (or “grammars”) will take. This BBS target article discusses the “trigger experience,” that is, the experience that actually affects a child's linguistic development. It is argued that this must be a subset of a child's total linguistic experience and hence that much of what a child hears has no consequence for the form of the eventual grammar. UG filters experience and provides an upper bound on what constitutes the triggering experience. This filtering effect can often be seen in the way linguistic capacity can change between generations. Children only need access to robust structures of minimal (“degree-0”) complexity. Everything can be learned from simple, unembedded “domains” (a grammatical concept involved in defining an expression's logical form). Children do not need access to more complex structures.

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Behavioral and Brain Sciences
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  • EISSN: 1469-1825
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