An Emergentist vs. Universalist view of Language and Cognition

Distributed cognition

Image by Lisa Brewster via Flickr

I wanted to present a list that outlines some of the main differences in thought about language between Emergentist and Universalist perspectives.  This is important I think because it shows how only certain kinds of programmers and mathematicians can work successfully within a Cognitive framework.

Consider these characteristics of an Emergentist (Cognitive) view:

  1. Singular Mind (General Cognitive Abilities)
  2. Distributed Cognition
  3. Neo-Empiricist
  4. The Complex System IS the primitive
  5. Prototypes
  6. Online and Dynamic Processing
  7. Usage Based View of Language
  8. Falsifiable
  9. The Appropriate Level of Granularity is the Form-Meaning Pair (i.e., constructions)

Now, compare that list with this Universalist (usually Generative) view on the same issues:

  1. Modular Mind
  2. Localization in Neuroscience
  3. Innate
  4. Atomistic, Reduce!
  5. Feature based categories & Atomistic Set Theory
  6. Stable Structures and “Switches” that enable cognition
  7. Competence Based View of Language
  8. Language is the de facto expected product of the mind
  9. Reductionism refines phenomena out of existence

Can some middle perspective be taken that combines both extremes?  What are your thoughts?

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2 thoughts on “An Emergentist vs. Universalist view of Language and Cognition

  1. […] of constraints, schemas, and other elements of cognitive processing (see this week’s post on emergentist vs. universalist view for understanding the contrast in general cognitive processing vs. modular […]

  2. I don’t think there is a need for a middle ground. I don’t think these views are really polar opposites in their approach as much as they are opponents in the intellectual discussion. I think the universalist view is a subset of the emergentist view. There are pseudomodular, pseudoatomistic and pseudogenerative phenomena in mind and language and the universalists have good tools to describe and model some of them.

    The innateness and universalism are really just silly hypotheses that make them seem respectable because they look like grand theories but are based on mere scraps of evidence. On relatively brief reflection universal grammar and things like LAD are really rather embarrassing and not proper partners in a substantive debate.

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