Learning a language is a Herculean task; one that children perform with relative easy. Exposed only to a language environment – one ripe with errors, incomplete utterances, and no "goodness" information – a child can quickly and expertly acquire a communication system that is symbolic, combinatorial, productive, and expressive. With appropriate awe, linguists have posited that such a feat could not be performed without a boot-strapping mechanism of some sort; since Chomsky (1965) we have assumed that the language stimuli to which a child is exposed is impoverished and that to compensate for poor or indeterminate quality and inadequate quantity of input, humans come with a stock set of discrete, symbolic features and parameters commonly known Universal Grammar.
Considering the state of academic thought in Linguistics, Psychology, Computer Science – all the areas that have contributed to the modern study of Cognitive Science – this claim was both warranted and understandable. However, while other disciplines have increasingly shunned logical, symbolic, and a temporal models of intelligence and behavior due to overwhelming evidence to the contrary, modern theoretical linguistics has remained committed to the same framework.
This, I believe, is due to three reasons: 1) Linguists remain convinced that language can be 100% dissociated from other cognitive abilities; 2) Linguists remain convinced that language can be "lifted out" of the physical bodies within which it is instantiated; and 3) in general other disciplines are linguistically naive and have little respect for what linguists do. Given these facts, it is unsurprising that Linguistics as a field would be swayed by research performed in other areas. I believe that the "Poverty of Stimulus" argument in particular has held up over time because no one has provided linguists with a differing view of what constitutes the "input" (i.e. the language data), nor what constitutes the resulting phenomena (i.e. language, itself). If neither of these well-defined entities are challenged, there is no reason to challenge the underlying intuitions that gave rise to "Poverty of Stimulus".
The purpose then of this paper is to present a differing view of one of those well-defined entities – the input. I maintain that
what constitutes linguistic input differs dramatically from what we have previously thought and provide a new conception that is more
parsimonious with current research in other cognitive disciplines. I argue that we can better understand this new notion of input and
how it can give rise to a system as complicated as language through an abstracted form of Schema Theorem which has been used as a domain
specific explanation of how Genetic Algorithms perform efficiently. Finally, I present a first step in trying to experimentally support
to this new conception of input via a computational model of the acquisition of grammar.
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