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Academic spat-watch 1: the war on Universal Grammar

By Tom Chatfield  

It seems that Philip Oltermann’s recent report for Prospect on a debate currently rocking the world of linguistics only hinted at how few toys are left in several academic prams.

On one side, we have the American anthropologist Daniel Everett, who after decades of working with an Amazonian tribe known as the Pirahã published in 2005 a study claiming that their language defied Chomsky’s theory of Universal Grammar. On the other hand, we have three distinguished Chomskyites—Andrew Nevins, David Pesetsky and Cilene Rodrigues—leaping to their guru’s defence. And it’s all getting rather messy. First, there came the trio’s 2007 response…

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