A team of neuroscientists have found evidence to support Noam Chomsky’s theory which posits that humans possess an “internal grammar” that allows us to comprehend a grammatical structure in otherwise nonsensical phrases.
via Medical Xpress:
A team of neuroscientists has found new support for MIT linguist Noam Chomsky’s decades-old theory that we possess an “internal grammar” that allows us to comprehend even nonsensical phrases.
“One of the foundational elements of Chomsky’s work is that we have a grammar in our head, which underlies our processing of language,” explains David Poeppel, the study’s senior researcher and a professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology. “Our neurophysiological findings support this theory: we make sense of strings of words because our brains combine words into constituents in a hierarchical manner—a process that reflects an ‘internal grammar’ mechanism.”
The research, which appears in the latest issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience, builds on Chomsky’s 1957 work, Syntactic Structures (1957). It posited that we can recognize a phrase such as “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” as both nonsensical and grammatically correct because we have an abstract knowledge base that allows us to make such distinctions even though the statistical relations between words are non-existent.
Neuroscientists and psychologists predominantly reject this viewpoint, contending that our comprehension does not result from an internal grammar; rather, it is based on both statistical calculations between words and sound cues to structure. That is, we know from experience how sentences should be properly constructed—a reservoir of information we employ upon hearing words and phrases. Many linguists, in contrast, argue that hierarchical structure building is a central feature of language processing.