The language faculty

Paul Pietroski*, Stephen Crain

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


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 Ilanguage that permits questions with a medial-wh, even if one does not encounter such questions.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford handbook of philosophy of cognitive science
EditorsEric Margolis, Richard Ian Samuels, Stephen P. Stich
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9780199940967
ISBN (Print)9780195309799
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Cognitive system
  • E-language
  • I-language
  • Language faculty
  • Naturahls
  • Negative polarity items


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