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The Universal Grammar theory

Paper type: Essay
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“The extent and type of our language defines our knowledge of the world” The statement above is a composite claim, created by the juxtaposition of two independent notions which must be understood for a proper analysis to be effectuated. The concept of language is thus partitioned into a) its different varieties (e. g. French) and b) its utility in helping us understand the world around us. Due to the correlation between language and culture, it is difficult, at first glance, to deny the magnitude of the impact that can be attributed to the former.

Even in its definition language is associated with “same community or nation, the same geographical area, or the same cultural tradition”1. It is, however, the contrast made between this and other ways of acquiring knowledge that will ultimately establish whether the role of language in shaping our understanding of the world is fundamental or discretionary. There is truth is saying that language is one of the components that make up an individual.

For instance, when we are trying to define a person, we often prioritize the specification of their name followed by their gender, and then we move on to an array of aspects that range from religion to nationality. Within this range we find language, as it is often considered crucial to one’s identity with a clear example being its inclusion in the Information Section of the Facebook Profile feature2 and almost every other social network website. Now, culture is defined as the “the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values, and knowledge, which constitute the shared bases of social action”3.

This presents us with two crucial pieces of information. The first one is the fact that culture is a term used to describe the compilation of every single factor that determines our view of the world. The second one is that these factors are inherited. Thus, since inheritance is the act of passing on knowledge to the other members of your society, and since the only way to do this is through language, it is possible to say that one’s outlook of the world is inevitably limited, and hence defined, by language.

However, there are those who belief that language is not something as unique as is often perceived by most people. Perhaps the most relevant individual stemming from this school of thought is Noam Chomsky. His Universal Grammar theory, though ambiguous in regards to validity, attempts to consolidate the idea that every human language has a common structural basis4. This would effectively disprove what has been said so far, since language would become a by-product of culture instead of an aspect that contributes to its formation, having no effect whatsoever in our ability to acquire knowledge.

For instance, an example of one of the rules that form part of the Universal Grammar theory states that “If a language has a word for purple, it will have a word for red”. Were this always true, the theory would have proven that all human beings and societies follow a pattern when they are formulating their linguistic system. Consequently, it is only the style of the language that changes, not the set of principles that helps to formulate it.

In other words, if a person speaks French, they will understand the world in the same way a German speaking person would; the only difference is the superficial qualities, such as intonation and grammar. Then there are also the strengths and limitations of language as a way of knowing. The four official ways of knowing that are taught in the IB are sense perception, reason, emotion and language5. A functional way of approaching them and their relative role in defining our knowledge of the world is by a systematic study of human evolution.

If we consider Darwin’s theory beyond the technicality that deems it pseudoscientific6, we can interlink the dependence of the human race on each of the ways of knowing. For one, the human race began with the same cognitive capacity as any other animal. Like them, we relied only on sense perception to obtain the information that would shape our view of the world. Nonetheless, over time we developed a liking for tool usage. It is known that to even consider using a tool one must have the ability to reason, even if it is only to the most basic extent.

Cite this essay

The Universal Grammar theory. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/universal-grammar-theory-10117-new-essay

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