Knowing grammar without studying it: an emergent property of language acquisition?

As children we learn our native language without studying grammar (Sure, later at school we are forced to learn grammar but this happens when we are already fluent). We speak the language in a way that (mostly) follows grammar rules without knowing them, how is this possible?

how is possible that we learn grammar without studying it?

To answer this questions in this post I will consider language as a complex system and knowledge of language grammar as an emergent property of this system.


Complex Systems

Let’s start by looking at a definition of a complex system:

“A complex system is a system composed of interconnected parts that as a whole exhibit one or more properties (behavior among the possible properties) not obvious from the properties of the individual parts.” (Joslyn and Rochafrom, 2000 [retrieved from Wikipedia])

Let’s consider the human body as an example of a complex system. The human body is composed by many different tissues, which made different organs. As a whole the interactions of the different organs result in many emergent properties such as growth, reproduction, vision, taste etc…

The different parts of a complex system fit so well together because they self-organize themselves during their assembly process. For example, a biological community is a complex system that is formed through a process of self-organization during which animals and plants that can join the biological community survive and the rest will be selected out.


Language as a complex system

We can consider language as a complex system that is composed by interconnected knowledge and information that is self-organizing during the process of language acquisition (the process of assembly). Our ability to speak using grammar rules without having studied them is then an emergent property of this system.

If we accept that the information we acquire during language acquisition is self-organizing than this means that we should focus on increasing our exposure to the raw information, i.e. the language itself, rather than on understanding on a theoretical level how it is organized.

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Literature cited:

Joslyn, C. and Rocha, L. (2000). Towards semiotic agent-based models of socio-technical organizations, Proc. AI, Simulation and Planning in High Autonomy Systems (AIS 2000) Conference, Tucson, Arizona, pp. 70-79

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