LINGUIST List 5.200

Tue 22 Feb 2004

Qs: Universal Grammar

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  1. Joseph P Stemberger-1, Query: UG

Message 1: Query: UG

Date: Thu, 10 Feb 1994 17:00:28 Query: UG
From: Joseph P Stemberger-1 <>
Subject: Query: UG

In previous discussions in LINGUIST, it's been noted that we linguists
tend to think that accounting for universals is pretty important, and that
some of us think that universals are innate and some of us don't. I don't
want to re-open that issue, but I'm looking for a clarification about

I was wondering how this interacts with the term "Universal Grammar". It's
my impression that innatists tend to use the term "UG", while others just
talk about "universals". So, when I hear "UG", part of the meaning that I
get is "universals are innate".

I came across the following statement in a to-be-published monograph:
 "By 'serious', we mean 'committed to Universal Grammar'."
Now, if you interpret this to mean: "By 'serious', we mean 'committed to
the notion that universals are innate'", this becomes a very political
statement, saying that people who account for universals through e.g.
learning are not doing serious work. (The extent of the politics may not
be apparent to everyone. But try replacing the word SERIOUS with the word
CLOWNISH, and you'll see what I mean.)
On the other hand, if the sentence can be interpreted as defining
"serious" as "committed to accounting for universals", it's not
particularly political and wouldn't offend anyone.

So I'm wondering whether the term "UG" presupposes the notion of
innateness, or whether it's neutral on that issue.

---joe stemberger
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