A multiple process solution to the logical problem of language acquisition

Brian Macwhinney, Nick Chater, Roland Hausser, Erika Hoff, Simon Kirby, Ping Li, Gary F. Marcus, Letitia R. Naigles, Partha Niyogi, William O'Grady, Steven Pinker, Douglas L T Rohde, Barbara C. Scholz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Many researchers believe that there is a logical problem at the centre of language acquisition theory. According to this analysis, the input to the learner is too inconsistent and incomplete to determine the acquisition of grammar. Moreover, when corrective feedback is provided, children tend to ignore it. As a result, language learning must rely on additional constraints from universal grammar. To solve this logical problem, theorists have proposed a series of constraints and parameterizations on the form of universal grammar. Plausible alternatives to these constraints include : conservatism, item-based learning, indirect negative evidence, competition, cue construction, and monitoring. Careful analysis of child language corpora has cast doubt on claims regarding the absence of positive exemplars. Using demonstrably available positive data, simple learning procedures can be formulated for each of the syntactic structures that have traditionally motivated invocation of the logical problem. Within the perspective of emergentist theory (MacWhinney, 2001), the operation of a set of mutually supportive processes is viewed as providing multiple buffering for developmental outcomes. However, the fact that some syntactic structures are more difficult to learn than others can be used to highlight areas of intense grammatical competition and processing load.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)883-968
Number of pages86
JournalJournal of child language
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • General Psychology


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