B.F. Skinner in 1950, at the height of his prestige, a few years before Chomsky used the "poverty of the stimulus" to debunk Skinner's claims. Now Chomsky's argument is collapsing, although that will not be enough to restore Skinner.
This blog has obtained a landmark paper on language origins that will appear in a forthcoming issue of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. It provides details for the great reversal that is underway in our understanding of the origins of syntax, and confirms Babel’s Dawn’s report last March that the Chomskyan paradigm of generative grammar no longer provides the guiding ideas for the effort to understand language origins. In my series of reports after Barcelona I worried, “The question the conference has left unanswered is whether a new paradigm will appear or whether the study of language evolution will simply fall back into the chaos and confusion that once made taboo all inquiry into speech origins.” See: Paradigm Lost.) Now we have a distinctly encouraging sign. A detailed, theoretical and empirical understanding of how to reverse old linguistic assumptions is becoming clearer. A strong candidate for this reversal's founding paper is the forthcoming, “Language as Shaped by the Brain,” by two psychologists, Morten H. Christiansen and Nick Chater. (Various drafts are circulating on the web. One of them is here and another here.) The next several posts on this blog will discuss this paper, but let's begin by its overthrow of the "poverty of the stimulus," the original argument that carried the day for the Chomskyan paradigm.