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The Linguistic Review

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Volume 34, Issue 3

Issues

The many errors of Vyvyan Evans’ The Language Myth

Nicholas Allott
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  • Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages, University of Oslo, Blindern, Oslo N-0316, Norway
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/ Georges Rey
Published Online: 2017-06-09 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/tlr-2017-0011

Abstract

Vyvyan Evans’ The Language Myth argues that Chomsky’s program of Universal Grammar (UG) is “completely wrong,” and it has attracted much recent discussion, some of it laudatory. We set out what we take to be its many serious errors, including: (i) a misunderstanding of the empirical character of the evidence that Chomsky and other generativists have adduced for UG, in English as well as in many other languages, coupled with a mistaken claim that the theory is unfalsifiable; (ii) a confusion of superficial typological universals, or features present at the surface of all of the world’s languages, with UG features that are apparent only under analysis; and (iii) a failure to appreciate the significance of Fine Thoughts (the things one cannot say in natural languages, even though it would be clear what they would mean) as critical evidence of UG, and of the difficulties presented by them for the kinds of “language-as-use” and related empiricist theories that he favors. Indeed, Evans also (iv) fails to address the issues of competence and constraints that are raised by Fine Thoughts and that are a central concern of UG; and (v) conflates UG with a computational theory of mind, a Fodorean conception of modules and a Pinkerean interest in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

Keywords: Noam Chomsky; language-as-use; Universal Grammar; language universals; Fine Thoughts

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About the article

Published Online: 2017-06-09

Published in Print: 2017-08-28


Citation Information: The Linguistic Review, Volume 34, Issue 3, Pages 1–20, ISSN (Online) 1613-3676, ISSN (Print) 0167-6318, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/tlr-2017-0011.

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