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Dynamics in acquisition: approaching emergence, generativism and grammar construction with Dynamical Systems Theory

Any theory of language acquisition logically calls for a theory of the development and the epistemological foundations of individual grammars, yet the exact manner with which grammars emerge has been perennially debated (see Bavin, 2009, for a review). Against this background, this talk advocates for the potential of a Dynamical Systems take on grammar construction and generative grammar. I assume here Chomsky (2005)’s Three Factors approach, as well as neo- emergentist approaches to language variation, which put forward a radically impoverished Uni- versal Grammar (Biberauer, 2011’s, et seq., Maximise Minimal Means model; cf. also Ramchand and Svenonius, 2014; Wiltschko, 2014, 2021). Taking as a point of departure a maximally poor set of starting conditions (Universal Grammar) and the assumption that there exists a third-factor principle that aims to maximise minimal means, I then show how Dynamical Systems Theory (DST) naturally complements these perspectives on learnability and offer one possible theoretical implementation of DST in this context. The suggested architecture attempts to relate acquisition, cognition and representation explicitly: symbolic dynamics and contextual emergence analyses of DST allow us to interrelate, both metaphorically and topologically, (i) acquisitional dynamics, (ii) conceptual spaces (à la Gärdenfors, 2000, 2014) and (iii) the representational system being de- rived from these interactions. Finally, it will be argued that drawing together systems theory with neo-emergentism provides innovative tools and means with which to shed new light on the con- tent of UG, the three factors of language design and perspectives on featural and representational systems.
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