Don’t believe the rumours. Universal Grammar is alive and well.
Dan Milway
67

A remark

First, an aside about Tomasello’s article where it is said that “she sneezed him the napkin” is an instance of a “ditransitive” verb complement. This utterance doesn’t seem to me to be ditransitive as it does not have two direct objects, the cornerstone of ditransitivity. “She sneezed him the napkin” has a direct object, napkin, and an indirect object, him. If “him” were indeed a direct object, then the utterance “She sneezed him” would be implied by the utterance, “She sneezed him a napkin,” and such is not the case.

On to the question of whether a pragmatic approach to linguistics, where external inputs are the focus, like the usage-based theories mentioned in the article, can supersede a cognitivist approach like Chomsky’s, where internal rules of learning are instead the focus, is not going to be decided by any experiment test that shows language-learners inconsistently applying some rule they are presupposed to have as a part of a mental language acquisition device.

The real question, and the one that should guide our research, is how to get around the ever present problem of the poverty of the stimulus, namely, the problem of how any amount of environmental input can be transformed by any mind to produce rule-based linguistic performance, and for that there is simply no escaping the conclusion that individual speakers bring their own rules to bear on the process of linguistic experience.

We may not come into the world with a universal grammar of the sort imagined by those who criticize Chomsky’s nativism, but we certainly come into the world with genetically coded learning rules that make linguistic experience possible. After all, organisms that lack these inherited features do not make use of linguistic inputs to learn a language, and they lack this capacity not because they are not exposed to the same verbal environment but because they lack the learning rules. These rules or algorithms are the precondition for meaningful experience, i.e. for learning.

Chomsky was right: humans grow language, and nothing grows without inherited design.