Unlike most newborns, on his arrival into the world, my newly-minted son found himself in the arms of someone well-versed in the the most fiercely contested question in contemporary linguistics: is language innate?
Are babies born with grammar hard-wired into their brain? Or is language something bestowed by culture and socialisation?
The early exchanges of gaze, attention and vocalisations with my baby in his first hours, days and weeks were experienced against the melodrama of modern linguistics’ greatest schism. This happens to revolve entirely around the role of mothers and significant others in the development of a child’s language.
In the story of how language emerges in the child, as told by Noam Chomsky, nature is largely the lone hero. The child comes with a “language organ” already installed in her or his brain, as a sudden and isolated gift of evolution – out of nowhere, all-at-once, fully formed and forever unchanging.… Read the rest