Stephen Crain, "The Emergence of Meaning" (Cambridge UP, 2012)


It's not surprising that human language reflects and respects logical relations - logic, in some sense, 'works'. For linguists, this represents a potentially interesting avenue of approach to the much-debated question of innateness. Is there knowledge about logic that is present in humans prior to any experience? And if so, what does it consist of? In The Emergence of Meaning (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Stephen Crain argues the case for 'logical nativism', the idea that some logical concepts are innately given and that these concepts are relevant both to human language and to human reasoning. He illuminates his argument with extensive reference to empirical data, particularly from child language acquisition, where the patterns from typologically distant languages appear to exhibit a surprising degree of underlying unity. In this interview, we discuss the nature of logical nativism and debate the limitations of experience-based accounts as possible explanations of the relevant data. We consider the case of scope relations between quantifiers, and see how shared developmental trajectories emerge between English and Mandarin speakers. And we look at possible lines of attack on this issue from a parametric point of view.

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