Volume 7, Issue 3, 2007
Philosophy of Linguistics
M. J. Cain
Language Acquisition and the Theory Theory
In this paper my concern is to evaluate a particular answer to the question of how we acquire mastery of the syntax of our first language. According to this answer children learn syntax by means of scientific investigation. Alison Gopnik has recently championed this idea as an extension of what she calls the ‘theory theory’, a well established approach to cognitive development in developntental psychology. I will argue against this extension of the theory theory. The general thrust of my objection is that at the point at which children are acquiring knowledge of syntax they are not in a position to engage in far-reaching scientific investigation. Or, if they are, there are no mechanisms in place to ensure that their scientific investigations will generate a common body of knowledge so making linguistic convergence a mystery. That this is so is a product of two salient features of scientific confirmation. I will conclude that my objections to the theory theory put pressure on learning theories in general.