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Linguistics Essay: Generative Vs Cognitive Language Learning


Linguistics Essay Task: What do you understand to be the difference between the Generative and Cognitive theories of language learning, and what does your own experience suggest is the more realistic theory?

You might want to read some of Newmeyer’s work on Generative Linguistics and Chomsky’s own work on generative grammar for the Generative theory side of the debate and Evans and Green’s Cognitive Linguistics: an introduction on the other. Some of these are available online in book form or in summary form to aid your research.

We’d like to see you refer to and briefly unpack Chomsky’s thinking about the existence of a LAD as a part of this answer, and his ideas about grammar being universal; also a similar brief unpacking of Cognitive Theory.

Use your own experience of language learning (successful or otherwise) to inform your opinions on which is the most realistic theory, as well as any experience you have from you teaching different nationalities and levels.


This linguistics essay brings out potential difference associated with “Generative and Cognitive Theories”, related to linguistics learning. It analyses scholarly works such as Chomsky’s own work related to generative grammar and Newmeyer’s work associated to “Generative linguistics”. It also examines works on “Cognitive linguistics”, and brings out a suitable argument through reflecting on the works mentioned and suggesting the most realistic theory to be applied in terms of linguistic learning environment.

Critical Discussion
Difference between generative and cognitive theories of language learning

Generative theory or generative linguistics comprise of doctrine associated with language acquisition. It is a potential linguistic theory, which further relates to different ways in which ‘native speakers’ further generate their language regardless of explicit knowledge. Within this potential concept, language learning is not meant, as potentially depending on any form of analogy rather it requires different and particular skill. Linguistic application in this theory is further regarded as “rule governed behaviour”. “Generative Grammar”, further deals with how a logical rule provides language examples and it outlines a series of formulas that creates teach (Barman, 2012). In this concern, generative theory comprise of limited series of regulations, which is applied towards producing specific sentences, which are grammatical in objective language.

“Cognitive Theory” or linguistics discusses potential reciprocal structural relations along with mutual actions between linguistics and cognition. It inquires if language effects mind or if linguistics becomes apparent in terms of non-linguistic form of cognitive functioning. According to “Dirk Geeraerts and Hubert Cuyckens”, cognitive theory of language learning enhances a critical role in terms of being informational structures in our worldly encounters (Kupisch et al. 2021).It assumes that worldly interaction is further mediated by informal form of structures in mind. It focuses on natural language as a potential medium for processing, organising as well as conveying specific information.

In this concern, it is essential to note that “Generative Theory”, concentrates on how native speakers tends towards learning a language regardless of any formal introduction of their grammatical framework. It further assumes that application of a potential language is a result of a behaviour restricted to specific rules. It looks forward towards guiding students to structural and potential language composition while outlining proper teaching methods, which is based on theoretical form of analysis. Therefore, this theory formulates a potential structure depended on learning process. On the other hand, “Cognitive Theory”, discovers language as potentially rooted in evolutionarily advanced faculties and concentrates on potential explanations, which establishes as well as fits suitably into current understandings associated with human mind. Unlike ‘generative theory’, cognitive linguistics treats utilisation of language as a proper bioregional form of behaviour. According to the latter theory, learners are guided to assure communicative competence. It also designs teaching methods, pursuant towards practical form of observation associated with psychological construction.

While “Generative Theory (GT)”, focuses on shaping and structuring teaching methods based on a theoretical form of analysis, “Cognitive theory (CT)”, structures potential form of teaching methods as per practical form of observation in psychological framework (Kupisch et al. 2021). In this concern, GT assures a structure depended form of learning process in linguistics while CT calls for an unstructured form of learning process, which can be further shaped for suiting individual requirements of the learner.

Chomsky’s own work on generative grammar
It is essential to note that essence of Chomsky’s “generative linguistic approach” is further potentially influenced through application of transformational grammar. According to Noam Chomsky, grammar learning ability comprise of a physical component, which is further installed in human brain. For this particular ideology, terminology associated with ‘mental grammar’, is utilised widely by researchers and it takes ‘grammar’, as descriptive, potentially prescriptive as well as pedagogical (Chomsky, 2013). Chomsky proposed that linguistic learning capability comes into proper existence irrespective of if it is taught or not. Rather linguistic learning ability comprise of fundamental elements, which are further common and general in every natural human languages (Chomsky, N., 2013). It comprise of a proper subject towards monitoring, controlling along with enhancing scientific test for analysing different capabilities, that are originated in mind and different elements, which are general in every linguistic aspects.

Chomsky explains that formulation associated with grammar except in scenario of extreme sensory deprivation, whether an individual is raised in perfectly natural circumstances, then the individual almost in each occasion will potentially advance linguistics with certain properties. These properties will include analysing pronouns from proper adjectives or examining difference between works for contributing towards syntax, along with words, which will form basic components of targeted language. According to Chomsky, restrictions associated with human brain against potentially organising linguistics are further limited. This essentially implies that there comprise structural bases, which is further shared through every language and is defined as “universal grammar”. With potential respect to “Generative Grammar”, Chomsky argues that in terms of linguistic behaviour “Stimulus-response model”, is unable for defending any form of against attack as he reasoned in their first and foremost form of setting, this system is potentially unable to provide or comprehend any new paradigm of words (Chomsky, 2013). Chomsky states that any individual is capable to comprehend or speak out different sentences, that they have never heard in past. “Stimulus-response model”, cannot be subjected towards clarifying a sentence, which an individual might understand or speak out can be due to new combination of different words or that any form of young learners comprise of capability for learning language quickly regardless of any form of formal guidance, developing towards understanding constructions, that they have further heard for very first time. Chomsky states that linguistics cannot be subjected towards being marked out as a series of script for play regarding purpose of responses and acquisition of language cannot be categorised as any form of process related to learning script.

According to Chomsky’s publications n late 1950s, in his book of “Syntactic Structures”, of 1957, the author concentrated on mental structures, which has been required for representing kind of linguistic knowledge, that any competent earner or linguistic must comprise (Chomsky, 2013). Chomsky further argued that associations ‘per se’ along with phrase structure grammars cannot represent how words are potentially organised into different phrases and sentences. Chomsky stated that what had to be properly added comprised of a component, which was capable of potentially transforming a particular syntactic structure into another. The author further argues that ‘phrase structure grammars’, are also inadequate towards describing natural languages and potentially formulated a more complex system related to transformational grammar (Chomsky, 2013). Therefore, primary component of generative grammar as per Noam Chomsky is believed to have found potential linguistic evidence, that syntactic form of structures are not learned by an individual, rather it is ‘acquired’, by a child from potential universal grammar.

Newmeyer’s work on generative linguistics and opposition to Chomsky’s work
According to “Newmeyer”, notion associated to parameter of “Universal Grammar (UG)”, comprise of no role to play in terms of accounting associated with cross-linguistic differences in potential syntax. He states that linguistic based differences are further captured in linguistic-specific rules. He tries to display that parameter-based form of approaches, have further failed towards living up to their commitments and hopeful vision associated with UG providing small amount of principles, each admitting of small number associated with parameter settings is not workable (Newmeyer, 2015). Newmeyer argues that facts related to linguistic typology are better explained through parsing constraints rather than through any form of parameters or potential principle models associated with grammar. He has continued towards defending basic principles associated with generative grammar.

It is essential to note that Newmeyer observes that potential grammatical constructions are utilised in conversation, further reveals a sophisticated form of knowledge associated with syntax, which defies any meaningful form of analysis in terms of potential fragments. Unlike Chomsky, Newmeyer himself admits that frequency comprises of a significant factor in terms of resulting to structuring as well as restructuring of grammar. He argues that appeals towards frequency shall never be utilised as an alternative associated with careful form of grammatical analysis (Newmeyer, 2015). Unlike Chomsky, Newmeyer states that speakers or children naturally figure out meaning of different sentences but as a potential rule, they do not get subjected towards judging if sentences they hear comprise of being grammatically correct or not. In this concern, he comes very close towards conflating grammaticality as well as acceptability a notable distinction for Chomsky, in terms of linguistic learning, competence as well as performance.

It is significant to note that Newmeyer states that un-grammatical sentences would continue towards playing an essential part in terms of linguistic analysis; therefore, introspection would always comprise their place in linguistics. However, role of introspection is different in terms of usage-based as well as generative based perspective. Newmeyer is quite sharp in terms of his rejection of studies through usage-based linguistics, which argues regarding importance associated with frequency-based form of generalisations towards structure associated with grammar (Newmeyer, 2015). While Chomsky discovered that as infants or children learns to speak; they do not make potential errors, which are expected commonly. Newmeyer argues that grammatical structure can further be learned through input that does not involve simplistic form of behaviouristic learning, rather comes from abstracting frequency-biased form of regularities of form-implying mappings related to the input.

In early days, “generative grammar” has been mostly applied in synchronic form of study related to syntax as well as phonology. According to Newmeyer, in his research of 2010, he illustrates that sentences comprising of a highly form of complex structure do occur in a natural as well as spontaneous form of communication as individuals needs to utilise a large corpus for finding the same. He also illustrates that among complex form of constructions occurring in terms of natural speech, are majorly cross-cultural form of dependencies, that are deeply embedded gaps in relative clauses along with gerunds of possessive subjects as well as gapping and backward form of anaphora (Newmeyer, 2015). Newmeyer further states that based on input alone it becomes very difficult towards figuring out for an individual learner that similar sentences type, which that person has encountered so far in an accidental form, happened towards comprising a potential ‘upstairs interrogative’ form of reading. Newmeyer claims for deducing functional requirements for formal grammar principles it is needed to deduce selective form of benefits related to autonomous syntax. He provides no argument unlike Chomskyan commitment, and fails to show that intermediate level needs to be strictly autonomous (Newmeyer, 2014). Unlike Chomsky, Newmeyer’s paper is left regardless of any evolutionary justification for existence of potential autonomous syntax. Phenomena he cites do not show any form of support towards existence associated with syntactic principles, rather they are utilised within cognitive-functional form of literature for arguing against Chomskyan paradigm.

Chomsky’s thinking regarding existence of LAD and his ideas about grammar being universal
“The Language Acquisition Device (LAD)”, is a potential claim associated from acquisition of linguistics research, which is proposed through “Noam Chomsky”, in 1960s. LAD concept comprise of a purported form of instinctive mind capacity, which enables a child for acquiring as well as producing linguistics. It is a major component associated with “Nativist theory of language” (Newmeyer and Preston, 2014). This potential theory asserts that different individuals are further born with a potential instinct or comprise of an innate form of facility to acquire language. Primary argument given in favour of LAD has been associated with “Poverty of Stimulus”, that states, unless children comprise of a significant form of innate knowledge about grammar, they will not be able to learn linguistics as quickly as they generally do (Djeribiai, 2016). This circumstance is only provided, that children do not comprise of any access towards negative evidence as well as rarely receive any direct form of instruction in their first linguistics.

Chomsky proposed LAD as a hypothetical form of tool that is designed into brain of children, which helps them to learn and understand language in a rapid manner. He further argued that LAD helped children to acquire linguistic abilities along with accounting for innate form of understanding associated with grammar as well as potential syntax, that infant possesses. Keeping in mind regarding theoretical concept of LAD, it is utilised for explain ways in which thousands of underlying processes, in human brains have further evolved for making us specifically exceptional in terms of learning as well as understanding language. Chomsky has established concept of LAD and moved to an even greater theory of “Universal Grammar (UG)”, for accounting rapid linguistic establishment among humans. It is significant to note that prior to work of Chomsky, it was commonly believed that children acquired or learnt language entirely through exposure (Djeribiai, 2016). This kind of belief was supported by work associated with behavioural psychologists, who further demonstrated that when exposed to stimulus along with reinforcement, humans are subjected to learn behaviours within their ability. In essence, children or infants potentially observe linguistics being spoken around them and acquire the language. However, Chomsky offered a clear argument with number of evidences for supporting this theory.

Chomsky posed that linguistics is fundamentally similar across humanity. He discovered that as infants or children learns to speak; they do not make potential errors, which are expected commonly. For instance, children or infants understand that every sentences need to comprise structure of “subject-verb-object”, even prior to their ability of speaking full sentences. From his different experiments, Dr Chomsky also noted that young children prior to attaining linguistic fluency would notice if adults around their environment spoke in any form of grammatically incorrect manner (Piattelli-Palmarini, 1994). He discovered that children further attempt towards applying “grammatical rules”, towards words, for which their linguistics comprise of an exception. For instance, an infant can pluralise the word ”fish”, as “fishes”, even if the linguistic further makes potential exceptions for this kind of words.

Chomsky stated theory of “Universal Grammar (UG)”, offering that grammar learning capability comprise of a major physical component, which remains installed in human brain. For this particular ideology, terminology associated with ‘mental grammar’, is utilised through researchers (Yang, 2015). The UG theory proposes that linguistic learning ability comes into potential existence irrespective of the fact that if it is taught or not and there comprise of fundamental elements, which are further common in all natural languages of human being. This theory further claims that there comprises of an inborn form of inherent linguistic learning ability that is further determined genetically and already knows aforementioned form of formulas associated with objective language

In this concern, the faculty is not familiar with vocabulary of any specific language, which makes it important for relevant items in language, to have to be potentially learned. Therefore, Chomsky states that restriction associated in human brain against organising linguistics are further limited (Talebinezhad and Farhadian, 2014). This essentially implies that there lies a structural basis, which is shared through every language and is defined as universal grammar’.

Evan and Green’s cognitive linguistics
Cognitive linguistics comprise of a modern school associated with linguistic throught and practice. It is further concerned with investigating association between human linguistics, mind along with socio-physical experience. The book of “Cognitive linguistics”, through Evan and Green provides understanding of language learning through perspective of cognitive linguistics. It specifically and explicitly examines as well as analyses commitments, which guide research into cognitive form of linguistics (Evans and Green, 2006). The commitments are “Generalisation Commitment”, along with “Cognitive Commitment”. The ‘generalisation commitment’, is a potential commitment towards characterising general form of principles that governs every aspect of potential human linguistics (Evans and Green, 2006). This form of commitment further comes with phenomenological form of characterisation of proper linguistic aspects where generalisations need to be sought.

‘Cognitive commitment’, makes one account related to human language accord with what is normally known related the brain as well as mind from potential disciplines other than linguistics. It further states that cognitive linguistics can be roughly segmented into two primary research regions, which are “Cognitive semantics and cognitive grammar”. Four guiding principles associated with cognitive semantics are that conceptual structure is embodied while semantic structure comprises of a conceptual form of structure. Meaning representation is further encyclopaedic while construction of meaning is conceptualisation.

It is significant to note that Evans and Green assure that “Cognitive Linguistics”, can be both provided in its tangible as well as built-in specific forms or bioregions (Lakoff, 1990). This illustrates as a more advanced aspect of “Whorfinasm”, that implies that it is not only a language that is inter-influential towards cognition but it also comprise of a natural experience along with environmental products present in relevant bioregion(Evans and Green, 2006). Different aspects related to cognitive language concern includes cognitive neuroscience along with potential linguistic relativism (Yao and Su, 2021). It also involves conceptual form of organisation along with construction grammar and construal as well as potential subjectivity. It also includes gesture and major sign language.

Most suitable form of theory in linguistic learning
Unlike “Generative Theory”, “Cognitive Theory”, opposes towards employment related to any structure-dependent method towards aiding learners in their learning process of language. As per my theoretical understanding and practical experience, I have never tried towards applying GT in practice; however, I have thoroughly observed its application. For instance, In South-Asian countries English comprise of a foreign language, and marks as a compulsory subject from 1st to 12th grades in school. “Grammar Translation Method”, is utilised as a potential tool for teaching English to students; however, I have witnessed that even after prolonged years of study students further fail towards achieving any form of communicative competence in linguistics.

I personally, find “Cognitive Theory”, offers most logical form of formulas associated with linguistic acquisition, especially as it enables application related to ‘multiple intelligence theory’, along with a potential inductive form of learning system and centred learning and teaching procedure. Additionally being taught under CT, learners like me translate from first language to second language and can express themselves through being more communicative (Breitwieser and Brod, 2021). Henceforth, CT assures great deal of practice in context of practical world settings and enhances students to attain communicative competence.

This essay concludes that between “Generative and Cognitive theories”, the latter is the most realistic theory in terms of linguistic learning. In this concern it analyses thoroughly Chomsky as well as Newmeyer’s works on generative grammar along with highlighting Evans as well as Greens paper associated with CL for bringing out a suitable argumentative discussion.

Reference List
Barman, B., (2012). The linguistic philosophy of Noam Chomsky. Philosophy and Progress, pp.103-122.

Breitwieser, J. and Brod, G., (2021). Cognitive prerequisites for generative learning: Why some learning strategies are more effective than others. Child development, 92(1), pp.258-272.

Chomsky, N., (2013). Topics in the theory of generative grammar. De Gruyter Mouton.

Djeribiai, A., (2016). Chomsky's Generative Transformational Grammar and its Implications on Language Teaching.

Evans, V., and Green, M. (2006). Cognitive linguistics: An introduction. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Kupisch, T., Soares, S.M.P., Puig?Mayenco, E. and Rothman, J., (2021). Multilingualism and Chomsky's Generative Grammar. A Companion to Chomsky, pp.232-242.

Lakoff, G., (1990). Cognitive versus generative linguistics: How commitments influence results. Language and communication, 1(1).

Newmeyer, F.J. and Preston, L.B. eds., (2014). Measuring grammatical complexity. Oxford University Press, USA. Preston.+Measuring+Grammatical+Complexity.+Oxford:+Oxford+UP,++2014.++&ots=Xef_ -vZHlk&sig=qYxYE4U2zwf6CLp6UMj4BANoxi0

Newmeyer, F.J., (2014). Syntactic change: Between universal grammar and fuzzy grammar. In The sociolinguistics of grammar (pp. 37-66). John Benjamins.

Newmeyer, F.J., (2015). Parentheticals and the grammar of complementation. Parenthetical Verbs, pp.13-38.

Piattelli-Palmarini, M., (1994). Ever since language and learning: afterthoughts on the Piaget-Chomsky debate. Linguistics essay Cognition, 50(1-3), pp.315-346.

Talebinezhad, M.R. and Farhadian, N., (2014). A comparative study of two cognitive models in teaching idiomatic phrasal verbs: Tyler and Evan's vs. Lakoff and Johnson's approach. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 4(8), p.1621.

Yang, X., of retracted article, (2015): A Cognitive Poetic Approach to the Function of Metaphor. Advances in Literary Study (ALS), 3.

Yao, Y. and Su, Q., (2021). Book Review: The Routledge Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, p.2008.


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