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Comprehension matters: a commentary on ‘A multiple process solution to the logical problem of language acquisition’



MacWhinney (2004) has provided a clear and welcome synthesis of many strands of the recent research addressing the logical problem of first language acquisition from a non-nativist or non-generative grammar framework. The strand that I will comment on is the one MacWhinney calls the ‘pivot’ of his proposal, namely, that acquiring a grammar is primarily a function of learning ITEM-BASEDPATTERNS (e.g. pp. 23–29, 41, passim). These item-based patterns serve a number of dominant roles within MacWhinney's proposal, including enforcing children's conservatism (thereby reducing greatly their overgeneralizations and need to recover from the same), supporting the probabilistic nature of grammar, and enabling the competition that promotes recovery from the overgeneralizations that do occur. My concern here is primarily with the first role, that of enforcing children's conservatism, and especially with the exclusive use of language PRODUCTION as the demonstrated support of this conservatism.


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