On the Biological Basis of Language Capacities

  • Noam Chomsky


My title, of course, is taken from Eric Lenneberg’s major study of language and biology, now recognized as a classic in the field (Lenneberg, 1967, pp. 393-394). He set himself the task of studying language as “an aspect of [man’s] biological nature, to be studied in the same manner as, for instance, his anatomy.” The purpose of this study was “to reinstate the concept of the biological basis of language capacities and to make the specific assumptions so explicit that they may be subjected to empirical tests.” Adopting this point of view, we may regard the language capacity virtually as we would a physical organ of the body and can investigate the principles of its organization, functioning, and development in the individual and the species. Personally, I feel that this is just the right way to approach the study of human language. I would like to make a few remarks on the program that Lenneberg outlined and developed, concentrating on two theses that seem to me of particular significance.


Biological Basis Cognitive Structure Linguistic Theory Mental Computation Language Faculty 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • Noam Chomsky
    • 1
  1. 1.Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA

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