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What do all languages have in common? - Cameron Morin

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Language is endlessly variable. Each of us can come up with an infinite number of sentences in our native language, and we’re able to do so from an early age— almost as soon as we start to communicate in sentences. How is this possible? In the early 1950s, Noam Chomsky proposed a theory that the key to this versatility was grammar. Cameron Morin details Chomsky's theory of universal grammar.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Cameron Morin
  • Director Eoin Duffy
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Music Sono Sanctus
  • Sound Designer Sono Sanctus
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Fact-checker Paul Durbin
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Language is endlessly variable. Each of us can come up with an infinite number of sentences in our native language, and we’re able to do so from an early age—almost as soon as we start to communicate in sentences. How is this possible?

« Language is the core property that basically defines human beings. » Noam Chomsky 

Language is an important phenomenon to study, but it is also one of the most challenging; it remains, by and large, an ongoing mystery. It is situated at the interface of natural and social sciences, branching into an impressive variety of disciplines; moreover, there is a wealth of competing theories which may lead new readers and students to some confusion. This is completely normal. Below are a few references to guide you if you wish to dive into the exciting rabbit hole of linguistics.

One of the best ways to get acquainted with the absolute basics of linguistics is to follow an full introductory course, which is made easier today by the existence of online programmes. Futurelearn  offers a free course with set dates, while Coursera’s “Miracles of Human Language”  is an affordable course with the possibility of obtaining a grant. An even more flexible option is to watch at your own pace the videos posted by Prof Jurgen Handke on his Youtube Channel “The Virtual Linguistics Campus”  .

If you prefer deepening your knowledge through reading in particular, there are countless handbooks which will tell you more about the study of linguistic form and meaning. For syntax viewed through the Chomskyan paradigm, my personal recommendation would be Andrew Carnie’s Syntax: a generative introduction” , which has a gradual step-by-step approach and offers a series of exercises at the end of each chapter. If you are more of a casual reader, David Adger’s “Language Unlimitedis an updated and accessible synthesis which came out in Summer 2019.

The references above will provide you with substantial background knowledge to dig even deeper into Universal Grammar, which constitutes a central debate in modern linguistics to this day. The Oxford Handbook of Universal Grammar] (2016, ed. Ian Roberts) is an excellent summary of this topic and other concomitant issues.

Finally, you might be interested in discovering more about Noam Chomsky himself. Chomsky is not only a central figure in science, but also in political thought and activism. Most of his talks and interviews are available on this Youtube channel. Also, Michel Gondry’s “Is the man who is tall happy? An animated conversation with Noam Chomsky”[CM9] is a beautiful film going over Chomsky’s personal life, career, and ideas.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Cameron Morin
  • Director Eoin Duffy
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Music Sono Sanctus
  • Sound Designer Sono Sanctus
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Fact-checker Paul Durbin
  • See more