In particular, I am interested in the suggested common features of creole languages more or less grammaticalized by children.

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    Having watched at least one 1 hour lecture on the issue, I doubt this can be answered concisely. Are the any particular issues & claims that Chomsky made that you are curious if they still stand? Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 21:23
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    @thei: I think the word you're looking for is "grammaticalized". Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 22:46
  • Children don't grammaticize embedding without outside input, never center embedding, forget about full context-free recursion. They might make lists spontaneously, but probably not, given Piraha. The "grammar" created by children is just a simple word order/verb-noun-adjective-adverb-tense business, perhaps some function words or two, or a linguistic category ( "adjective" in the case of that sponteneously generated South American sign language). Grammatical recursion is only created by fluent bilingual adult speakers that learn the grammar, and already know another recursive language.
    – Ron Maimon
    Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 20:18

6 Answers 6


Ray Jackendoff's "discussion note" in the latest issue of Language takes trenchant issue with UG, thus implying that its status is weak, but the sheer volume of recent citations Jackendoff cites implies that it is still the theory to beat.

The full citation: Jackendoff, Ray. 2011. Discussion note: What is the human language faculty? Two views. Language 87.3: 586-624. (self-archived pdf version)

  • Is there an online link?
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 21:29
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    @H Stephen Straight: Could you include the issue number/date/etc of Language since this answer will persist into the future when other future issues are released an in turn become the latest issue? (-: Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 23:39
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    Sure! Here's the full citation: Jackendoff, Ray. 2011. Discussion note: What is the human language faculty? Two views. Language 87.3: 586-624. Commented Sep 20, 2011 at 19:41
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    I don't think Jackendoff is "anti-UG" at all in this paper (whatever "anti-UG" might mean). He is against Chomsky's "biolinguistic turn" that dismisses out of hand any theory of UG that don't obey the Strong Minimalist Thesis. But I don't think he's gone over to the Tomasello camp...
    – pensator
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 21:53

There are some books and textbooks that are fairly recent which can give you a good place to start. One of the more recent ones is Understanding Minimalism, which I think is a good, pretty well-written introduction to some of the most recent stuff.

If you really want the bleeding edge, you will want to look at some of Chomsky's recent articles. You can find a list at his page at MIT.


Jackendoff is welcome to the group of those who doubt that anything like UG exists. All so-called linguistic universals are logical, biological, physiological, or neurological in nature. That is, there is no universal 'grammar'. Try Pathways of the Brain by Sydney Lamb.

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    The myth of language universals by Evans and Levinson has a good discussion of this too. Downloadable version here and some followup discussion here Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 7:13
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    While reading Evans and Levinson's paper, bear in mind the following: at first, their primary target was generative syntax; secondly, they don't really understand what linguistic typology is and how typological studies are done (hence such a sensationalistic title); and, last but not least, their paper was published in BBS (think about the target audience!)
    – Alex B.
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 15:57
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    @AlexB. well, of course it was published in BBS - their whole position is that while many people in linguistics have moved on from the idea of language universals, the influence those theories had in the field of cognitive science persists, without being updated by current linguistic knowledge. If the same paper were published in one of many major linguistics journals, you would be preaching to the converted. Commented Nov 5, 2011 at 5:55
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    @AlexB. what was your reason to say that Evans and Levinson don't really understand what linguistic typology is and how typological studies are done?
    – jcm
    Commented Feb 19, 2012 at 1:39

See What counts as evidence in linguistics: The case of innateness, eds. Penke and Rosenbach. 2007. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. This collection of articles was originally published in Studies in Language.


Perhaps it's not that recent, but for reference - an exchange between Hauser, Chomsky and Finch on one side, and Jackendoff and Pinker on the other: Language Log.

In short: Chomsky's hypothesis is that UG contains nothing but recursion. Jackendoff and Pinker point out that our visual cognition is also recursive, so recursion can't belong to UG (unless we believe that these two types of recursion evolved completely independently - but why should we assume that?). If we take the Chomsky's premise about UG, and combine it with the J&G's observation, we end up with the conclusion that there is no UG.


Watch out about Evans & Levinson's paper. It's inaccurate about what Chomsky and others have said, and inaccurate about the languages they discuss. When you hunt down the references, they don't make anything like the claims that Evans & Levinson attribute to them.

These slides from a recent conference are pretty damning (and probably pretty accurate): "How (not) to uncover cross-linguistic variation" by Lisa Matthewson, who is a leading semanticist who specializes in fieldwork on Salish.

Another relevant article is "Mythomania? Methods and Morals from ‘The Myth of Language Universals’" by Daniel Harbour.

  • Please avoid posting raw links. :) Check this meta question. It should be helpful!
    – Alenanno
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 16:03
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    What you are saying is nonsense. Usually people being inaccurate about Chomsky are simply talking about 1950-1980 Chomsky vs. 1980s-1990s Chomsky, who essentially abandoned the original (more fruitful) analysis of language in terms of context free grammars. The context free grammar idea captures modern language recursion well, but the "minimalist" business is essentially a retrenchment to the least amount of recursion the data will support, which, given Piraha, is zero.
    – Ron Maimon
    Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 20:15

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