Minimalist Behaviorism: The Role of the Individual in Explaining Language Universals

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


This chapter argues that linguistic universals need to be understood in terms of a model of language that incorporates both learned statistical patterns (" habits" ) and derivations (" rules" ). It presents an Analysis by Synthesis model, where sentences are initially given a basic semantic interpretation based on canonical statistical patterns of syntax, but sentences are also at the same time assigned a separate derivation, reflecting the syntactic relationship between constituents. It proposes a universal constraint on language that is necessary for the model to link statistical patterns with syntactic derivations. This constraint-the " canonical form constraint" -requires that all languages must have a set of statistically dominant structural patterns indicating the mapping between syntactic constructions and their meanings. Moreover, it should be possible to approximate the meaning of complex derivations in terms of such canonical patterns without recourse to a full derivational analysis. This approach as complementary to the Minimalist program in that it seeks to determine what is minimally required to explain language acquisition and use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationLanguage Universals
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199866953
ISBN (Print)9780195305432
StatePublished - May 1 2009


  • Analysis by synthesis model
  • Derivations
  • Learned statistical patterns
  • Linguistic universals
  • Minimalist program
  • Syntactic relationship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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