The Language Faculty

Paul Pietroski and Stephen Crain

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Cognitive Science

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780195309799
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

The Language Faculty

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  • Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Mind
  • Philosophy of Language



The article illustrates that humans have a language faculty, a cognitive system that supports the acquisition and use of certain languages, with several core properties. The faculty is apparently governed by principles that are logically contingent, specific to human language, and innately determined. A naturally acquirable human language (Naturahl) is a finite-yet-unbounded language, with two further properties that include: its signals are overt sounds or signs, and it can be acquired by a biologically normal human child, given an ordinary course of human experience. Any biologically normal human child can acquire any Naturahl, given an ordinary course of experience with users of that language. An E-language is a set of signal-interpretation pairs, while an I-language is a procedure that pairs signals with interpretations. The I-languages that children acquire are biologically implementable, since they are actually implemented in human biology. A function has a unique value for each argument, but Naturahls admit the possibility of ambiguity. A domain general learning procedure might help children learn the environments in which negative polarity items (NPI) can appear but acquiring the constraint on where such expressions cannot appear is another matter. The language faculty makes it possible to acquire an I-language that permits questions with a medial-wh, even if one does not encounter such questions.

Keywords: language faculty; cognitive system; E-language; I-language; Naturahls; negative polarity items

Article.  9315 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Mind ; Philosophy of Language

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