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Review of  Language Faculty Science

Reviewer: Pamela Villar González
Book Title: Language Faculty Science
Book Author: Hajime Hoji
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 31.1474

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The book under review presents an experimental methodology for studying the language faculty. The goal of the book is to show how, through this methodology called the “Guess-Compute-Compare” method by Feynman, it is possible not just to make predictions regarding the faculty of language (Chomsky, 1986, 1993), but also to compare these predictions with experimental results. The author claims that language faculty science is actually closer to physics than to social science, and this modification should introduce innovative methods in the research and the approach to data.

The text presents not just the methodology, but also several examples of each step of the project that illustrate the theoretical information. The raw data for the examples are available in detail on the website This material allows not just the repeatability of the experiments but also the option to check the results. It is important to take into account that most of the examples are displayed in the English language; however, in the 7th chapter the method is applied to Japanese language data, proving that the methodology could be used in any language and it is not restrained to a particular grammar, phonological system or alphabet.

With regard to the format of the book, it starts with a short summary, followed by a preface, a list of abbreviations and eight chapters. After the last chapter, we can find two appendices: the first one with a list of key concepts, hypotheses, schemata, and examples used in the text. In the second one, we find the address of the website and how to use all the information. In order to increase the legibility, after the appendices, we find a glossary, some Endnotes, and an index of authors, two word indexes (one in English and one in Japanese) and the last index with the information sorted by subjects.

Each chapter starts with an introduction where the key terms are repeated, followed by sections (enumerated and marked in bold letters) and finishes with a brief summary section. The first and last chapter, introduction and conclusion, do not follow this description.

Chapter 1 entitled “Introduction” presents the main idea and the content of the book, with a brief summary of every chapter and its relationship with the previous and the next chapter in the text.

Chapter 2 entitled “The fundamental schematic asymmetry” develops the idea of studying the language faculty as an exact science and how to do it. The author reminds us of the premise that the language faculty is the basis of our ability to associate sounds and meanings. Through the different subsections, the author introduces and explains the different types of judgments and predictions, how to work with schemata and what is the fundamental asymmetry, that is to say: acceptable in any context vs. non-acceptable at all.

Chapter 3 entitled “Deducing definite and testable predictions” instructs on how to make predictions and how to convert these predictions into hypotheses in order to test them by schemata (what was already explained in the previous chapter). With great clarity, the chapter explains the main types of hypotheses that will be used: Universal hypothesis, Language-Particular hypothesis, and Bridging hypothesis. For better understanding, the author reminds us several times of the aim of the work he is presenting: to study the language faculty, not language in general or specific languages.

Chapter 4 entitled “Obtaining definite and categorical experimental results” emphasizes the importance of the hypotheses. This chapter focuses on the first two types of hypotheses presented in the previous chapter (Universal hypotheses and Language-particular hypotheses) introducing new subtypes according to their nature: lexical or structural. In order to study the language faculty, it is necessary to make predictions (hypotheses) that will be studied (tested with schemata) in individual informants about the relation between sound and meaning. The validity of the experiments is crucial in order to be able to accept as facts of the language faculty the validated hypotheses and discharge the rest. Ueyama’s model of judgment-making is presented and explained, in order to help with the process of how to make testable predictions.

Chapter 5 entitled “Experiments in language faculty science” is devoted to discussing the design and conduction of the experiments and the interpretation of the results. This chapter describes the insights of the experimental design. It explains how to conduct experiments: the general instructions, the possible interpretations and the options given to the informant. Finally, it explains how the results should be interpreted, from the basics to the classification and the significance.

Chapter 6 entitled “Illustration: Experiments in English” displays how to obtain the results that are in line with our predictions. This chapter presents the examples in the English language and the next one in Japanese.

Both chapters start with a section about how the predicted schematic asymmetries tested have been elucidated in the main-experiment. After this, we find detailed information about the informant classification (through sub-experiments). The next section explores the repeatability of the judgment of the informants in different situations. The last section before the summary is related to the acceptable schema-based predictions. It is recommended to pay special attention to the website when reading both chapters.

Chapter 7 entitled “Illustration: Experiments in Japanese” has different titles for the subsections, but similar content; this chapter is devoted to illustrating the experiments, preparation, and interpretation, now tested in the Japanese language. Again, it is strongly recommended to accompany the reading of the chapter with the information provided on the website.

Chapter 8 entitled “Summary and concluding remarks” reviews the information presented and how it fulfills the goal of the book. It also provides a subsection of concluding remarks.


Language Faculty Science by Hajime Hoji presents for the first time how to apply the scientific method (Guess-Compute-Compare) to the language faculty defined as an internal capacity by Chomsky.

The book shows how to study the language faculty, independently from the language spoken by the informants, in a scientific way, closer to physics than to social science.

The book explores a tough topic with a fresh and challenging scientific approach. In order to do so, every chapter focus on a step of the process; how to create the experiments, perform them, analyze the data and check the data. If results agree with the hypothesis, then we will have no longer a hypothesis but a fact about the language faculty.

The book is clear and succinct, the introduction in every chapter reminding us what has been explained and the summary, which works as a “take-home message,” making the book easy to follow, even though the topic is intricate and the methodology presented is innovative.

Due to the novelty of the approach to the topic, in my opinion, it is too early to criticize anything in the text. However, some minimal improvements can be made both in the text and on the website for new editions. Regarding the text and with educative purposes, an extra chapter or an extra appendix with the complete process could be very useful. In short: to show an example but from the very beginning, with just some notes. With regard to the website, it could have a more friendly interface and should be adapted to be consulted from mobile devices. Again, with educational function, some tests regarding the understanding of the text and some practical exercises for “play” with the data will add even more value to the text.

To sum up, this book should become the basic manual for people interested in the study of the language faculty in a scientific manner. The book itself, or at least part of it, should be included and discussed in every program related to the study of linguistics and language immediately after the presentation of Chomsky’s theories about Universal Grammar. Furthermore, this methodology should be known by engineers and computer scientists who work in the study of language.
Pamela Villar González works as a researcher at the University of Liège (Belgium), she has a English Studies from the University of Oviedo (Spain) and a M. Sc. in Cognitive Science from the Ruhr University Bochum (Germany). Her previous works are in diverse fields like neuroscience (memory, study of biomarkers in healthy aging and dementia, sleep) and psycholinguistics (brain lateralization of language, whistled languages). Apart from research, she has taught Spanish language (Ruhr Universität Bochum, and University of Duisburg-Essen (Germany) and trained medical students (Ruhr Universität Bochum). Her research interests include as well language pathologies, speech science, bilingualism, communication, literature, culture, machine learning, in vivo-imaging methods and science divulgation.

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781107624795
Prices: U.S. $ 32.99
U.K. £ 24.99