Learning & Teaching Foreign Languages

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Read and Reflect

Poverty of the Stimulus Arguments (POSA).

Read the following quotes from researchers in linguistics:

generative SLA views language as a symbolic system, autonomous from cognition, and too complex to be acquired by training or through inductive or deductive learning from the input (Norris 725)

people attain knowledge of the structure of their language for which no evidence is available in the data to which they are exposed as children (Hornstein & Lightfoot, 1981)

This argument is known as the "poverty of the stimulus" argument and is part of the logical problem of language acquisition.

Express the main argument in your own words, and then answer the following questions:

1. What conclusions do Chomsky and generative theorists draw from this argument?

2. And what do cognitive nativists argue?


1. Chomsky proposes an innate language acquisition device which is genetically programmed for language. Language researchers have sought to support this theory by showing that children learning a first language and adults learning a second

a) can recover from overgeneralisation errors in the absence of corrective feedback (negative evidence) and

b) correctly produce or comprehend structures which they have never encountered



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