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date: 14 November 2018

Abstract and Keywords

This article explores what Noam Chomsky called ‘the argument from poverty of the stimulus’: the argument that our experience far underdetermines our knowledge and hence that our biological endowment is responsible for much of the derived state. It first frames the poverty of the stimulus argument either in terms of the set of sentences allowed by the grammar (its weak generative capacity) or the set of structures generated by the grammar (its strong generative capacity). It then considers the five steps to a poverty argument and goes on to discuss the possibility that children can learn via indirect negative evidence on the basis of Bayesian learning algorithms. It also examines structure dependence, polar interrogatives, and artificial phrase structure and concludes by explaining how Universal Grammar shapes the representation of all languages and enables learners to acquire the complex system of knowledge that undergirds the ability to produce and understand novel sentences.

Keywords: Noam Chomsky, experience, knowledge, poverty of the stimulus argument, indirect negative evidence, Bayesian learning algorithms, structure dependence, polar interrogatives, artificial phrase structure, Universal Grammar

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