From: David Lightfoot <dlightfonsf.gov>
Subject: Final Posting: Author's Response to Review
Michael Arbib addresses five points in my response to his review of How
New Languages Emerge (Cambridge UP, 2006) and here I respond to the
1. Arbib 'assumed readers would understand ... an I-language approximates an
E-language if the utterances it produces are far more likely than not to belong
to the E-language, with the approximation continually tested as the child hears
and produces new utterances.' His assumption may be right among people who
focus on construction types, but that is part of the problem. An I-language is
not a set of utterances, certainly not a finite set of utterances. There has
been much misleading discussion stemming from that misapprehension, including
discussion of I-languages being subsets of other I-languages, when all
I-languages generate infinite sets of structures. Nor do I know what he means
by 'an E-language,' as if there are enumerable E-languages. Furthermore, a major
point of the cue-based approach to acquisition is to get away from the very
problematic idea that children "test" I-languages against sets of data, as Arbib
himself notes elsewhere in his review.
2. I wrote that Pullum & Scholz (2002) 'do not address' what they call stimulus
absence arguments and therefore that there was nothing for me to respond to. I
did not say that they endorsed such arguments and I would be very surprised if
they did so.
3. If Arbib says in one breath that 'no theory is offered of how the child
activates "cues",' he cannot then 'note that [my] theory seems to offer positive
features ...' He can't have it both ways. Nor does he specify how my treatment
of the expression of cues 'weaken[s] the case that UG is needed to make
language-learning possible,' when I invoked UG throughout the discussion of how
cues are expressed.
4. He notes accurately that my brief response cites no evidence about the
interplay between adult changes and changes in acquisition by young children.
The evidence is provided in the book, which makes a big deal of that interplay.
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
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