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Department of Cognitive Science

What are core linguistic properties?

Stephen Crain (
Department of Linguistics and Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science, Macquarie University Sydney


There are two views about the distinction between core versus peripheral linguistic properties. Advocates of the theory of Universal Grammar contend that the difference between core and periphery is significant, with core properties having several characteristics that are not shared by peripheral constructions of individual human languages. By contrast, advocates of usage-based accounts of language contend that the distinction between core and periphery has little merit, since human languages differ so extensively, and the same mechanisms that language learners exploit in acquiring peripheral constructions also suffice in acquiring core properties of human languages. The purpose of this paper is to show that the defining characteristics of core linguistic properties are quite different on these different conceptions of human language. The distinction between core and periphery that is cited by critics of Universal Grammar is not the same as the distinction that has been advanced by advocates of Universal Grammar. Consequently, the core versus periphery distinction maintained by proponents of Universal Grammar escapes unscathed from the attacks of its critics. Of course, this leaves the core/periphery distinction open to assault but, hopefully, future criticism will be aimed at the right target.

Citation details for this article:

Crain, S. (2010). What are Core Linguistic Properties?. In W. Christensen, E. Schier, and J. Sutton (Eds.), ASCS09: Proceedings of the 9th Conference of the Australasian Society for Cognitive Science (pp. 67-71). Sydney: Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science.

DOI: 10.5096/ASCS200911
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