ISBN-10:
0674017641
ISBN-13:
9780674017641
Pub. Date:
03/31/2005
Publisher:
Harvard
Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition / Edition 1

Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition / Edition 1

by Michael TomaselloMichael Tomasello

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Overview

In this groundbreaking book, Michael Tomasello presents a comprehensive usage-based theory of language acquisition. Drawing together a vast body of empirical research in cognitive science, linguistics, and developmental psychology, Tomasello demonstrates that we don’t need a self-contained “language instinct” to explain how children learn language. Their linguistic ability is interwoven with other cognitive abilities.

Tomasello argues that the essence of language is its symbolic dimension, which rests on the uniquely human ability to comprehend intention. Grammar emerges as the speakers of a language create linguistic constructions out of recurring sequences of symbols; children pick up these patterns in the buzz of words they hear around them.

All theories of language acquisition assume these fundamental skills of intention-reading and pattern-finding. Some formal linguistic theories posit a second set of acquisition processes to connect somehow with an innate universal grammar. But these extra processes, Tomasello argues, are completely unnecessary—important to save a theory but not to explain the phenomenon.

For all its empirical weaknesses, Chomskian generative grammar has ruled the linguistic world for forty years. Constructing a Language offers a compellingly argued, psychologically sound new vision for the study of language acquisition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674017641
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 03/31/2005
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 408
Product dimensions: 5.69(w) x 8.81(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Michael Tomasello is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. From 1998 to 2018 he was Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and in 2017 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His scientific work has been recognized by institutions around the world, including the Guggenheim Foundation, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Netherlands, and the German National Academy of Sciences.

Table of Contents

  • 1. A Puzzle and a Hypothesis
  • 2. Biological and Cultural Inheritance
  • 3. Joint Attention and Cultural Learning
  • 4. Linguistic Communication and Symbolic Representation
  • 5. Linguistic Constructions and Event Cognition
  • 6. Discourse and Representational Redescription
  • 7. Cultural Cognition
  • References
  • Index

What People are Saying About This

Elizabeth Bates

Constructing a Language is the best book on language development since Roger Brown's A First Language. Tomasello has taken full advantage of the research that has been done in the thirty years since Brown's landmark book, to give us a full account of language acquisition, from the first signs of intentional communication in prespeech through the most complex syntactic constructions children produce. The book rebuilds bridges between child language and linguistic theory -- but in place of generative grammar, Tomasello ties the study of emergent language to a usage-based approach derived from cognitive and functional linguistics. He is particularly persuasive in showing how it solves the essential problem of how children "get from here to there," as they move by analogy from item-based phrases and word islands to richer constructions. Tomasello's book presents a comprehensive and well-articulated theory of the language-learning process that is more complete and richer in its heuristic value than any other attempt of its kind. It will be difficult to refute and impossible to ignore.
Elizabeth Bates, University of California at San Diego

Adele Goldberg

Certain to be a landmark in the language sciences, this book persuasively argues that all of our fundamental knowledge of language can be "learned" on the basis of what we hear, with recourse only to general basic cognitive abilities: intention reading and pattern-finding. No hard-wired "language instinct" is required. Tomasello's synthesis of linguistics and psychology will permanently change the debates about the developmental origins of language.
Adele Goldberg, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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