Grammar or experience?

What is wrong with the idea of “universal” in the Universal Grammar of Chomsky? It is that what is taken as being universal is wrong. It is not the grammar in the brain that is universal, but rather it is the human experience that is universal. We all have the same set of senses and mental faculty. We all input the same kinds of sensory and perceptive experience. But we also have the same kinds of choices and decisions to make about language which do not necessarily need to be a brain-module specific to operate. 

“Language is transformational” is partly correct, but it is probably at a more a general rather than being a specific mechanism that uses the properties of reality, sound and image to produce what is language. Certainly we are creatures who like to express themselves and to communicate with other creatures. We are undoubtedly social creatures. 

International Phonetic Alphabet symbols online keyboard

Did you know you can type phonetic symbols without needing to install fonts onto your computer’s operating system or word processor? Simply go to and enter the symbols you cannot get normally. Have fun. ;)

Maths and Reading Ability Same DNA Link Shown

So now that math and reading (and presumably language) are shown to be linked to the same group DNA how do we apply this knowledge to the teaching of language? Does developing math skills then improve language skills or vice versa? What implication does this have on content and language integrated learning (CLIL), content-base instruction (CBI), language immersion and bilingual education in general?

My doubts about formal grammar

There is something very similar to the chicken-or-the-egg question about formal grammar in which meaning is ignored and only the formal properties of the string is discussed.

But would that string exist without production of meaning, without the communicative desire to impart something in an instance of existence?

This is also like asking what is the meaning of life as if life needs to have some universal meaning or purpose before life can arise. There is something a priori about this logic.

This is where Chomskyan linguistics, to me, fails to convince – that there can be an explanation of language without meaning. Whether it be a word, phrase, clause or sentence there will always be two sides to a sign (in the Saussurean sense). Phoneme and basic-unit phonology are different in that they are the building blocks of language and not invested with meaning.

By looking at language and variation in the system is a mathematical exercise that cannot explain the inherent meaning of utterances (which, sadly, it is not trying to explain at all in the first place). For me language is about meaning, and about the limitations a language’s form has on expressing meaning and not the other way around. Syntax should therefore take into account semantics or rather syntax should be studied through semantics.

Original Pronunciation of Shakespearean Plays

This is a fascinating introduction to the differences in pronunciation of Modern English and Early Modern English (Shakespeare’s time). Explanations and examples are very clear by linguist David Crystal and his son Ben, an actor.

English Phonetic Chart


Here is an English phonetic chart I had created based on Adrian Underhill‘s Sound Foundations. I highly recommend this book as a workbook for teachers.


the node
has centre stage
as always, egotistical
to no end
handsome as a lover
heavy as a smoker
frequent to haunt joints
come keep him company
for loneliness is an eyesore

Neighbours, highlighting and hiding

Consider this conversation:

Tom: This is my neighbour, David.
David: Hi. I’m his neighbour. Call me Dave.
Harry: Harry. Nice to meet you, Dave.

David is Tom’s neighbour from Tom’s perspective. So the focus of the conversation is with Tom. But in reality we tend to forget (or in Lakoff and Johnson’s term hide) the fact that Tom is also David’s neighbour.

Any piece of dialogue must assume a perspective. If it didn’t they would be difficult to understand. It must highlight some facts and hide others. Sometimes this highlighting and hiding is deliberate. Sometimes it is unavoidable.

No Egg in Eggplant

Of course there is no egg in eggplant.

Apparently the name comes from a white egg-shaped variety cultivated by 18th century Europeans.

More interesting is the original name ‘aubergine’ which (according to Concise Oxford Dictionary) has its roots from Arabic and therefore the route (no pun intended, again) through which it made its way into Europe.

English is a crazy language

I am going to have a great time analysing these. There are either cognitive or historical bases for all of these I am sure.