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Debate 2016 - Nativism vs. Empiricism

Debate 2016 - Nativism vs. Empiricism


Two teams consisting of the members of Linguistics Club, debated the idea of language as an inborn faculty in the brain that is triggered by meaningful social interactions. The nativist perspective was presented by Nadira Šišić, Enisa Bajić, Kenan Ćatić, and Raid Ćulah. The members who presented the empirical perspective were Nejla Babić, Alessandro Tomić, and Medina Mahmutović. The members of the jury were: Research Assistant Ceylani Akay, Research Assistant Lola Turker, and Student Teaching Assistant Ana Tankosić

The Empiricism team refuted the idea of language as an inborn communicative system, stating that Universal Grammar (an inherent language system in the brain, UG) does not explain properties of many languages in the world, especially poorly documented ones. The main argument that the Empiricism team presented was that the feature of recursivity, one of the cornerstones of UG, is not found consistently in world languages. Furthermore, the team also claimed that a language can be learned even after the expiration of the critical period, which suggests that language is a cognitive skill rather than an inborn faculty.

However, the Nativism team responded well. The team claimed that the nativist perspective does not exclude the fact that we learn a language by experience, but that exposure to social interactions is insufficient for learning a language. Thus, they stated that children learn fast because they only need input to trigger already existing parameters of UG. Furthermore, the fact that human beings have a need to communicate via language, and not via non-verbal symbols, suggests that we possess an inherent predisposition towards language, which supports the idea of Universal Grammar. In the end, the team listed examples of children who did not learn a language in the critical period, which left them linguistically maimed for the rest of their lives, even though they spent many years in trying to master specific language patterns.

In the end, the jury gave a verdict, choosing the Nativism team as the winner of the debate. The members of Linguistics Club admitted that this was a great experience for team, as they had plunged into previously unknown realms of linguistics and also improved their skills in debating and presenting arguments. Finally, the Nativism team got a collection of Thomas Hardy novels, as a reward for their win.

Prepared by Nail Kalač