Unsolved problems in linguistics
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Some of the issues below are commonly recognized as problems per se, i.e., it is general agreement that the solution is unknown. Others may be described as controversies, i.e., while there is no common agreement about the answer, there are established schools of thought that believe they have a correct answer.
- Is there a universal definition of the word?
- Is there a universal definition of the sentence?
- Are there any universal grammatical categories which can be found in all languages?
- Can the elements contained in words (morphemes) and the elements contained in sentences (syntactic constituents) be shown to follow the same principles?
- The emergence of creole languages
- Origin of language is the major unsolved problem, despite centuries of interest in the topic.
- Unclassified languages (languages whose genetic affiliation has not been established, mostly due to lack of reliable data)
- Special case: Language isolates
- Undeciphered writing systems
- Language emergence:
- Language acquisition:
- Controversy: infant language acquisition / first language acquisition. How are infants able to learn language? One line of debate is between two points of view: that of psychological nativism, i.e., the language ability is somehow "hardwired" in the human brain, and that of the "tabula rasa" or blank slate, i.e., language is acquired due to brain's interaction with environment. Another formulation of this controversy is "nature versus nurture".
- Is the human ability to use syntax based on innate mental structures or is syntactic speech the function of intelligence and interaction with other humans? The question is closely related to those of language emergence and acquisition.
- The language acquisition device: How localized is language in the brain? Is there a particular area in the brain responsible for the development of language abilities or is it only partially localized?
- What fundamental reasons explain why ultimate attainment in second language acquisition is typically some way short of the native speaker's ability, with learners varying widely in performance?
- Animals and language: How much language (e.g. syntax) can animals be taught to use?
- An overall issue: Can we design ethical psycholinguistic experiments to answer the questions above?
- ^ "Simulated Evolution of Language: a Review of the Field", Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation vol. 5, no. 2
- ^ Robert Spence, "A Functional Approach to Translation Studies. New systemic linguistic challenges in empirically informed didactics", 2004, ISBN 3-89825-777-0, thesis. A pdf file