Universal Grammar


Personally, I’m for it!

What do you mean by this?

Are you just talking about the running theory of universal grammar, or are you talking about the endeavor to make an universal grammar?

If we take grammar as the understanding that goes with an image, a major premisse is the universal grammar that already exists since Logic is universal in all humans.

Good enough?

I’ve read of some experiments done to test the universality of logic, focussing on inhabitants of rural Russian villages.
in short, the test was to ask inhabitants of the villages to solve the following type of problem:

“If all cows are white, and I have one cow, what color is my cow?”

None of the respondents would answer that the cow is white. They would say things like ‘‘it depends what kind of cow it is’’, or “brown, probably.”

I do not know how far this goes to challenge the innateness of logic as grammar, but it makes clear that the method of deduction from hypothesis is not innate.

Hmm. Dunno. Don’t think so. One of those ‘sensitive to intial conditions’ things. My linguistics blows really. My English grammar’s good, my Turkish Grammar’s reasonable, but ask me if a language is Indo-whatever and I’ll just start picking my nose and rubbing it on my pants.

A lot of English idioms are body based or orientated - the “foot of the mountains”, “bosom of the Earth” etc. And since we all have similar bodies I’d expect that to be a universal in whatever language. Prepositions of movement - to, from etc. - I’d expect would remain pervasive, we all move.

English is a real mongrel of a language though. There’s at least three dogs in there, maybe more. Modern Turkish however, is a relatively simplified and romanized Arabic language - via the halfway house of Ottoman Turkish. I think lids of two can bang out a reasonably grammatically correct Turkish sentence, but with English it’s more like four, dunno about American however. :wink:

Prepositions are bastards, whatever language you’re trying to learn. There is positional notation (as far as I know) for all languages, although not always prepositions as we know them. Some languages have other ways around that, like grammatical cases. I think prepositions in Welsh (and presumably other Celtic languages) are inflected, even.

I thought Turkish was a Central Asian language? It certainly looks and sounds very different to Arabic, although I guess even so there must be a lot of Arabic and maybe Farsi all mixed in there for a laugh.

I have a Polish friend who tells me that Poles keep learning Polish grammar until they leave school - so 18, for academic types. It’s apparently a hideously complicated language.

When Atatürk formed the republic in 1923, one of the things he did was re-vamp the language. He threw out the arabic style writing, and romanized the script. There are 29 letters, w is missing, as is q and x. Added are ş, ç, ı, ö, ü, and ğ. All the letter sounds are fixed - not changing dependent on order as in English - which makes it very easy to read.

eg. A Turk would pronounce ‘Write’ as “writ - ey” - or spell it as ‘vrayt’

Vowel extention is done via adding ğ. Though it’s more of a back-of-the-throated echo of the vowel in question.

That’s so weird, Turkish sounds more like Icelandic than Arabic!
I was once told by a Turk that it is a combination of Ghenghis Kahns language and French.

Can you give me an example of icelandic…?

Go straight for the classics

Icelandic is the closest language to Old Norse, like Frisian and Old English. They still have thorn and eth in the alphabet. Given an extra hundred years guaranteed life, I’d love to learn it :stuck_out_tongue:

ut rubbbik chok ogmundur verdijam kubuk ulimer djanna djak

This is what I have on a recording in my phone. Especially the uks, choks djaks sound quite like Turkish to me, an illiterate in both tongues. If you say so I assume that Turkish is really a kind of Arabic, It just sounds so different.

‘Chok’ or çok in Turkish stands for ‘very’ or ‘a lot’ depending on context. What does that icelandic sentence translate as…? And what’s the word order like…?

For example Turkish goes like this:

“I went to the cinema with my friends”

“Arkadaşlarımla sinemaya gittim.”

(Arkadaş/lar/ım/la sinema/ya git/tim)

ie. friend-s-my-with cinema-to go+past form of ‘I’

Sorry dude, I couldnt tell you, I just have it recorded. All my ‘knowledge’ is based on being around some icelandic people a couple of times.
I was watching a Turkish film yesterday (actually German with a lot of Turkish bits in it) and I must say its not that much like Icelandic as I thought. But still, its hard to hear the link to Arabic…

If you’re not using UG metaphorically and you’re actually referring to linguistic theory, there are some interesting neurophysiologiocal interpretations of UG theory as not being Chomsky’s static rulebook (with maybe one standard deviation of variation), but a ‘rulebook’ consisting of predispositions that are creatively negotiated through cultural formation.

That’s all rather vague, but it intentionally so. In some departments classic UG is founded on a rather dogmatic predisposition as to its truthfulness, whereas the critics tend to approach the concept more playfully and therefore don’t present the same sort of hegemonic position. What connects these nebulous ideas, or at least the ones I have encountered, is the basic idea that the basic neurological mechanisms of communication, the building blocks, are in fact not blocks at all, not present in one rigid formation (as is assumed by Chomsky’s theory, at least, so I am told, never actually read him, I suspect it’s more his branch rather than his personal philosophy), and that his free standing rules of generative grammar (the bits that do the technical work of correct communication) are inherently socially contextualised; the evidence for this being that there is no rule of universal grammar that remains undisputed. Some linguists even claim to have found (Dialects? Languages? Grammar structures?) lacking subjective pronouns, the first person singular, adverbial constructions… That’s off the top of my head. But essentially, no definite rules. Consequently where there are common rules it must be inferred that they exist for good reason (or because of common and provocative contextual stimuli) but not that they represent an in-built psychological certainty, merely a developmental tendency.

All of this isn’t really against universal grammar, it just gives one a reading of universal with a small ‘u’. Personally I find it more appealing but this isn’t really my field. If anyone’s desperately keen I have some papers in this incredibly messy room I could dig out… somewhere. Plus the New Scientist is obsessed with attempts to refute UG (even if the accounts they present really don’t) and it usually has some interesting accounts.

Got that right… no better off here.


I can’t really say whether or not I’d be for a universal grammar… I’m not sure I fully understand the question.

When you said “I’m for it!”, all I felt comfortable assuming was that the question was asking if others are for a universal grammar (basically, of an opinion that having it would be better than not having it).

So I have a question for you, in hopes it may clarify what kind of input you’re hoping for, or expecting (…maybe it seems like I’m over-analyzing it, but I don’t think I’m being pedantic; I am very interested in the possibilities of this topic, but I simply can’t comfortably answer/discuss the question, as I now “understand” it).

My question: Did you mean to keep the question as open ended as possible, so the thread begins with a kind of brainstorm/“think tank” of varyings pros and cons regarding using (or even the ability to have, and/or steps to make) a universal grammar?

In other words, were you generally asking if anyone thinks a universal grammar would be, or could be, ideal in/for ANY situation/condition? By “any” I don’t mean applying to any of ALL (assumed as probable) situations/conditions—I don’t mean “ideal in/for ALL situations”. Or when you said you were “for” it, did you have a more specific question in mind?

Can you elaborate on this, and anything else that may give me a clear idea? Thanks.

Chomsky’s innatism is logical and acceptable.

However it says nothing about the surface of language, connotative meaning, interpretation, semiology, etc…

The writer, the universal intellectual, has had a place and still has place, however genealogy, discourse, power/knowledge, and the relations of power in discourse are the nouvelle vague of theory.

Logical is not the same as true. As far as I’m aware, interpretations of UG have loosened out over the years to become something more like a universal capacity for forming rules of grammar, rather than a strict, inherent code. If the latter did exist, then the anthropological evidence would be more clear cut.

Chomsky is pivotal and the seminal Syntactic Structures defined linguistics from 1957 onwards. His idea of ‘transformational grammar’, in which each sentence has both a ‘deep structure’ and surface structure’ is logical, acceptable, and very useful in analysis. The idea that deep structure contains properties common to all languages which are mapped onto the surface via ‘transformations’ is likewise very useful.

What I particularly like about Chomsky is his Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, Language and Mind in which he judges grammars and theories of grammars with ‘Levels of Adequacy’ according to their lucidity and effectiveness.