The Analysis of Verbal Behavior

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 191–207 | Cite as

A Philosopher’s War on Poverty of the Stimulus Arguments: A Review of Fiona Cowie’s What’s Within? Nativism Reconsidered



In What’s Within? Nativism Reconsidered (1999) Fiona Cowie addresses three questions: (1) What is nativism? (2) What is meant by calling some trait “innate”? and (3) What types of evidence should be offered when claiming innateness? This review concentrates on these questions as they pertain to Chomsky’s faculties-based account of language acquisition. In particular, this review focuses on Cowie’s critique of three versions of the poverty of the stimulus argument (POSA): (1) the a posteriori POSA, (2) the logical problem POSA, and (3) the iterated POSA. In addition, counter arguments to her critique, and Cowie’s response, in turn, to some of those counter arguments, are also reviewed.

Key Words

nativism innateness Chomsky domain specificty negative evidence hypothesis testing structure dependence 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Baker, C. L. (1979). Syntactic theory and the projection problem. Linguistic Inquiry, 10, 533–581.Google Scholar
  2. Berman, R. A. (1991). In defense of development. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 14, 612–613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bohannon, J. N., & Stanowicz, L. (1988). The issue of negative evidence: Adult responses to children’s language errors. Developmental Psychology, 24, 684–689.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Braine, M. D. S. (1971). On two types of models of the internalization of grammars. In D. I. Slobin (Ed.), The ontogenesis of grammar: A theoretical symposium (pp. 153–186), New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  5. Brown, R. & Hanlon, C. (1970). Derivational complexity and order of acquisition in child speech. In J. R. Hayes (Ed.), Cognition and the development of language (pp. 11–53). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  6. Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  7. Chomsky, N. (1975). Reflections on language. London: Fontana.Google Scholar
  8. Chomsky, N. (1986). Knowledge of language: Its nature, origin, and use. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  9. Chomsky, N. (1988). Language and problems of knowledge: The Managua lectures. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  10. Chomsky, N. (1991). Linguistics and cognitive science: Problems and mysteries. In A. Kasher (Ed.), The Chomskyan turn (pp. 26–53). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  11. Chomsky, N. (1995). Bare phrase structure. In G. Webelhuth (Ed.), Government and binding theory and the minimalist programme (pp. 383–440). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  12. Chomsky, N. (1997). Language and mind: Current thoughts on ancient problems (part 1). Retrieved October 10, 2004, from Scholar
  13. Collins, J. (2003). Cowie on the poverty of stimulus. Synthese, 136, 159–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cook, V. J. & Newson, M. (1996). Chomsky’s universal grammar: An introduction (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  15. Cowie, F. (1999). What’s within: Nativism reconsidered. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Cowie, F. (1999/2000). Whistling “Dixie”: Response to Fodor. Retrieved October 10, 2004, from Scholar
  17. Crain, S. (1991). Language acquisition in the absence of experience. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 14, 597–615.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Crain, S., & Thornton, R. (1991). Recharting the course of language acquisition: Studies in elicited production. In N. Krasnegor, D. Rumbaugh, R. Schiefelbusch, & M. Studdert-Kennedy (Eds.), Biobehavioral foundations of language development (pp. 321–337). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  19. Davidson, D. (1984). Inquiries into truth and interpretation. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  20. Demetras, M. J., Post, K. N., & Snow, C. E. (1986). Feedback to first language learners: The role of repetitions and clarification questions. Journal of Child Language, 13, 275–292.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Elman, J. L., Bates, E. L., Johnson, M. H., Karmiloff-Smith, A., Parisi, D. & Plunkett, K. (1996). Rethinking innateness: A connectionist perspective on development. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  22. Fodor, J. (1999/2000). Doing without what’s within; Fiona Cowie’s critique of nativism. Retrieved October 10, 2004, from Scholar
  23. Godfrey-Smith, P. (1996). Complexity and the function of mind in nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hirsh-Pasek, K., Treiman, R., & Schneidermann, M. (1984). Brown and Hanlon revisited: Mothers’ sensitivity to ungrammatical forms. Journal of Child Language, 11, 81–88.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Hyams, N. (1983). The pro-drop parameter in child grammars. Proceedings of the West Coast Conference in Formal Linguistics, vol. 2. Stanford, CA: Stanford Linguistics Association.Google Scholar
  26. Lightfoot, D. (1982). The language lottery: Toward a biology of grammars. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  27. MacWhinney, B. (1989). Competition and teachability. In M. L. Rice & R. L. Schiefelbusch (Eds.), The teachability of language (pp. 63–104). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.Google Scholar
  28. Maratos, M. P. (1982). The child’s construction of grammatical categories. In Wanner, E., and Gleitman, L. R. (1982). Language acquisition: The state of the art (pp. 240–266). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Marcus, G. (1993). Negative evidence in language acquisition. Cognition, 46, 53–85.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Moerk, E. (1991). Positive evidence for negative evidence. First Language, 11, 219–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Morgan, J. L., & Travis, L. L. (1989). Limits on negative information in language input. Journal of Child Language, 16, 531–552.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Nelson, K. E., Denninger, M. S., Bonvillian, J. D., Kaplan, B. J., & Baker, N. (1984). Maternal input adjustments and non-adjustments as related to children’s linguistic advances and to language acquisition theories. In A. D. Pellegrini & T. D. Yawkey (Eds.), The development of oral and written language in social contexts (pp. 31–56). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
  33. Newport, E., Gleitman, H., & Gleitman, L. (1977). “Mother, please, I’d rather do it myself”: Some effects and non-effects of maternal speech style. In C. E. Snow and C. A. Ferguson (Eds.), Talking to children: Language input and acquisition (pp.109–149). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Pinker, S. (1986). Productivity and conservatism in language acquisition. In W. Demopoulos and A. Marras (Eds.), Language learning and concept acquisition: Foundational issues (pp. 54–79). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
  35. Pinker, S. (1994). The language instinct: How the mind creates language. NY: Harper-Collins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Powers, D. M. W. (1991). Language acquisition in the absence of proof of absence of experience. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 14, 629–630.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pullum, G. K. (1996). Learnability, hyperlearning, and the poverty of the stimulus. In J. Johnson, M. L. Luge, & J. L. Moxley (Eds.), Proceedings of the 22nd annual meeting: General session and parasession on the role of learnability in grammatical theory (pp. 498–513). Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Linguistics Society.Google Scholar
  38. Putnam, H. (1971). The “innateness hypothesis” and explanatory models in linguistics. In J. Searle (Ed.), The philosophy of language (pp. 130–139). London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Read, C., & Schreiber, P. (1982). Why short subjects are harder to find. In E. Wanner & L. R. Gleitman, Language acquisition: The state of the art (pp. 78–101). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Rorty, R. (1999). Philosophy and social hope. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  41. Saffran, J. R., Aslin, R. N., & Newport, E. L. (1996). Statistical learning by 8-month-old infants. Science, 274, 1926–1928.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Sampson, G. (1989). Language acquisition: Growth or learning? Philosophical papers, 18, 203–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Schoneberger, T. (2000). A Departure from cognitivism: Implications of Chomsky’s second revolution in linguistics. The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 17, 57–73.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  44. Snow, C. E. & Ferguson, C. A. (Eds.). (1977). Talking to children: Language input and acquisition. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Sokolov, J. L., & Snow, C. E. (1991). The premature retreat to nativism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 14, 635–636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Staddon, J. E. R. (2004). A call to arms. The Behavior Analyst, 27, 117–118.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  47. Wanner, E., & Gleitman, L. R. (1982). Language acquisition: The state of the art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Association of Behavior Analysis International 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stanislaus County Office of EducationTurlockUSA

Personalised recommendations