LINGUIST List 8.1370

Sat Sep 27 1997

Sum: Innateness of Binding Theory

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. gao hua, sum: help for innateness of binding theory

Message 1: sum: help for innateness of binding theory

Date: Thu, 25 Sep 1997 15:42:07 +0800
From: gao hua <>
Subject: sum: help for innateness of binding theory

Some time ago, I posted three questions concerning the innateness of
the binding theory. Many thanks to the following colleagues who
responded: Brian Ulicny, Steven Schaufele, Isabelle Barriere, Jenny
Dalalakis and Michal Starke. They have provided me with either
detailed references or their own suggestion, all of which I find very
helpful. The following is my preliminary summary.

1. Concerning the references I asked for, there are a number of
responses. Many thanks again to all colleagues that helped. 

2. As for the second question, I agree with Mr. Brian Ulicy that
arguments for innateness usually require arguments that knowledge of a
particular kind couldn't have been acquired by ordinary methods of
knowledge acquisition: i.e., through instruction, through empirical
observation, through rational deliberation, etc.

3. As to question 3, the results seem to be:

i. As Chomsky says in his "Knowledge of Language"(1986),"There is good
reason to believe that the language faculty undergoes maturation."
That is to say, the reason for 16% of the older children's ability to
identify both potential antecedents of "ziji" in the given sentence
could possibly be due to their more developed cognitive power of
reasoning. And this more developed cognitive power might result from
their being more experienced in using the language and at hearing it
used by others. Or, the reason may simply be that they are better or
more confident at "imagining" situations of both the more salient and
the less salient interpretations, and thus more able to identify
linguistic ambiguity.

But this "maturation hypothesis" would not be strong enough until
further studies (on unbiased adults, etc.)are carried out.

ii. Perhaps the acquisition of certain parameters that influence the
availability of both antecedents have not been acquired yet (i.e.,
parameters determining the binding domain, etc., which are not
innate.) That is, to say that the binding theory is innate does not
mean that every speaker can determine the possible antecedent of every
anaphor or pronoun in a language at birth: this ability depends on the
acquisition of some parameters concerning the rest of the grammar
which may not be innate.

However, so far as I see, the more complicated point lies in that
neither the longer nor the shorter binding relation was uniformly
iii. Maybe the problem I'm dealing with is basically a matter of
"performance" rather than "competence". Double-checks may be needed.
I am still studying the innateness of the binding theory, and its
accessibility to L2 learners as well. If you are interested, keep in
touch with me.

Any hints concerning this study or relevant works are welcome!

P.S. I'm on the Net again now. Further feedback can be sent to my
supervisor Prof. Guo Jieke ( or directly to my
e-mail address below. I have also tried to contact Prof. Shaulfele by
e-mail, but unfortunately the only reply was 'host unknown'.

Best wishes!

Gao Hua
Foreign Languages Department
South China University of Technology
Guangzhou, China (510641)
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