What makes a language a human language? Mathematical perspectives on Universal Grammar

By Meaghan Fowlie.

Human languages can’t be just anything. They are enormously complex, and yet babies learn them automatically. The hypothesis that babies can do this in part because possible human languages are restricted is the basis of the theory of Universal Grammar. In this talk we will see how to mathematically describe some of the restrictions on possible human languages, and see how they all make infinite use of finite means, constrained in different ways. We will look at both the sound systems of language – how words can be built from sounds – and the syntax of language – how sentences can be built from words.