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Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition Kindle Edition
About the Author
- ASIN : B002OEBOIC
- Publisher : Harvard University Press (30 June 2009)
- Language : English
- File size : 5164 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Not Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Not Enabled
- Print length : 408 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: 1,135,856 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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One of the crucial distinctions that has emerged since Chomsky is how we are different from chimpanzees. Tomasello is one of the few scientists who has closely studied both apes and children as they attempt to acquire language. This book charts in some detail children’s progress from eighteen months to four years in the acquisition of language and demonstrates the trial and error process by which they converge on their communities’ norms for language.
He starts from the perspective that language depends on the subject understanding the intentions of her listener and using this to construct a common framework of discourse. This only develops in children between the ages of 1 and 2 (or later) and crucially doesn’t happens in other primates. Early exchanges are limited to simple requests and responses and these are progressively extended. Parents do not generally spend much time in correcting their children but may reiterate the “proper” way of saying something to counter than their child’s attempts. In this way the child is guided into the mainstream. Autistics do not share this “theory of mind”.
But how then do “abstract syntactic constructions” emerge? In the same piecemeal fashion. The neat divisions between syntax and semantics that linguistics inherited from Saussure and were canonised by Chomsky don’t work, but we’ve known that for some time. Different languages do it in different ways and it will be interesting to see this approach followed up in an inflection-based language.
This approach arises from cognitive functional linguistics but he calls it “usage-based linguistics” with commendable modesty. Tomasello has received numerous awards though he doesn’t yet appear to have the popular recognition that he deserves. But he has my vote.
Linguistics still seems to be in thrall to Chomsky, and Pinker who is his modern apologist. But Tomasello points out that there isn’t one human language but 6,000 different ones, each with their own rules and peculiarities. Chomsky’s attempt to extend his analysis from English to a broad variety of languages ends up with something more complicated rather than simpler as his “universal grammar”.
_Constructing a Language_ can be challenging for a non-specialist. The book is a long academic paper, dense with reports of research study after research study. Tomasello painstakingly reports all the results, and there are a lot of them, to build the case for his theory. This book is an academic tome most suitable for those in the communication fields.
Tomasello's _Origins of Human Communication (Jean Nicod Lectures)_ is a record of spoken lectures, is less pervaded with data, and covers similar ground from a slightly different angle in a more readable narrative form for a more general audience.