Outlining the parameters for a linguistic nativist position

  • Mark de Vos Department of English Language and Linguistics, Rhodes University, Grahamstown
Keywords: Innatism, nativism, Humboldt, Plato, biolinguistics, Universal Grammar


I will outline the so-called nativist position as it relates to language. While this debate has a long history, the data on which we can now draw is much richer and more varied than that available when the issues were first articulated and then debated in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Similarly the research context is radically different: behaviourism is no longer as dominant as it once was, Linguistics and Cognitive Science are much more theoretically mature and diverse, sporting a rich array of subdisciplines and perspectives. Along the way, some arguments have proved richer and more sustainable than others and indeed, in my opinion, the nativist position has shifted over the years. In some sense, it might be fair to ask whether the field has outgrown the debate and whether it is still as polarizing as it once was. This paper attempts to outline a nativist position by looking at the fundamental research questions that define it. Nativism is one possible coherent way of navigating through these questions; other routes through them may be possible. Consequently, there may be new spaces for rapprochement between different linguistic disciplines but which are often concealed by our scientific discourses.