Any viable theory of human mind must come to grips with how language is learned by children. Few areas of research on human cognition have aroused such controversy among scientists from diverse disciplines who bring their methodologies to bear on this elemental problem. At stake is the greatest prize of all: determining whether all of human knowledge is molded by human culture or whether some of it is determined by innate (genetic) structures. Two distinct traditions have emerged from the battle, but only one of them has influenced mainstream thought. One of the foundations of modern day intellectual life is the assumption that the human mind is a product of the social forces of culture brought to bear during the developmental period.
In this course, we will examine the bold attack that has been made against this firmly established position, an attack that has signaled a revolution in cognitive science. Our examination of the central issues of language acquisition will question our understanding of the modularity of mind, genetics vs. environment, human uniqueness, and the relation between language and thought. Students will learn how to evaluate data that are used to support or refute theoretical positions in discussions and in written assignments, thereby deepening their understanding of the issues and fostering critical thinking.