Chomsky sets out to answer three questions in Knowledge of Language. First, what constitutes knowledge of language? Second, how is knowledge of language acquired? Finally, how is knowledge of language put to use? In order to answer these questions, Chomsky first lists six sentences to demonstrate the inadequacy of the traditional ideas that language is a relationship between a string of words and meanings and that people learn language by example and analogy:
1. I wonder who the men expected to see them.2. The men expected to see them.3. John ate an apple.4. John ate.5. John is too stubborn to talk to Bill.6. John is too stubborn to talk to.
Example and analogy fail to explain how people know that “the men expected to see them” has two different meanings in the first two sentences. The sentences are almost identical in words and structure, but in the first an unknown person is expected to see the men, while in the second the men expect to see unknown persons. In the fourth sentence, if “apple” is omitted, the meaning that John ate something is still implied, but in the sixth sentence, the omission of “Bill” does not imply that Bill is too stubborn to talk to someone. Therefore, the omission in the sixth sentence...
(The entire section is 1400 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Knowledge of Language Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!