Abstracting Grammar From Social–Cognitive Foundations: A Developmental Sketch of Learning

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Abstract

Although the understanding of the development of infants' social cognition and cooperative reasoning has progressed significantly, to date, it has yet to be worked through in any detail how this knowledge interacts with and constrains emerging syntactic representations. This review is a step in that direction, aiming to offer a more integrated account of the learning mechanisms that support linguistic generalizations. First, I review the developmental literature that suggests social–cognitive foundations get linguistic constructions “off the ground.” Second, I focus on building layers of abstractions on top of this foundation and the kind of cognitive processes that are involved. Crucially important in this explanation will be the fact that humans possess a unique set of social–cognitive and social motivational-skills that allows language to happen. Furthermore, early linguistic categories are formed around the underlying functional core of concepts and on the basis of their communicative discourse function. This, combined with powerful pattern-detection skills, enables distributional regularities in the input to be paired with what the speakers intend to communicate.

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