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Eric Lenneberg

Eric Lennenberg was a linguist who pioneered ideas on language acquisition and cognitive psychology more generally about innateness.

His 1964 paper "The Capacity of Language Acquisition" sets for the seminal arguments picked up and popularized later by Noam Chomsky in his famous arguments for the innate "language organ".

He presents four arguments for biological innateness of psychological capacities, as constructed in parallel to arguments in biology for the innateness of physical traits:

  1. Universal appearance of a trait at a single time across a species. "Species typical" traits.
  2. Universal appearance across time for a group. Not just an artifact of cultural history. Again, "species typical" diagnostic feature.
  3. No learning of the trait is possible.
  4. Individual development of a trait rigidly follows a given schedule regardless of the particular experience of the organism.

He died at a young age. These early papers remain a significant legacy.

See Lennenberg, Eric. 1964. "The Capacity of Language Acquisition" in Fodor and Katz, 1964. Fodor, Jerry and Jerrold Katz, eds. 1964. The Structure of Language. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. The Fodor & Katz volume is a collection of papers around early Chomskyan linguistics, phonology, grammar, semantics.

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