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What does current generative theory have to say about the explicit-implicit debate?

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Taking a generative perspective, we divide aspects of language into three broad categories: those that cannot be learned (are inherent in Universal Grammar), those that are derived from Universal Grammar, and those that must be learned from the input. Using this framework of language to clarify the “what” of learning, we take the acquisition of null (and overt) subjects in languages like Spanish as an example of how to apply the framework. We demonstrate what properties of a null-subject grammar cannot be learned explicitly, which properties can, but also argue that it is an open empirical question as to whether these latter properties are learned using explicit processes, showing how linguistic and psychological approaches may intersect to better understand acquisition.

  • Affiliations: 1: Michigan State University; 2: University of Reading and Artic University of Norway (UiT)
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