Continuing from part one on Michael Tomasello's "Language Is Not an Instinct" (1995) and Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition (2003), as contrasted with Chomsky universal grammar (the flag that Steven Pinker continues to carry). With guest Christopher Heath.
We get into more of the insights and studies that drove Chomsky and Pinker to argue that language is largely innate and how Tomasello rebuts or gives an alternative interpretation of the data. For instance, Chomsky stressed the recursive, logical nature of grammar: clauses can be nested inside each other in a sentence indefinitely. Tomasello stresses that this kind of complexity actually doesn't jump into existence in children early, and it can be explained well enough by cognitive abilities that are not specific to language.
Given the variety of languages, some of which (like English) use a grammar based on word order, and some of which instead build numerous suffixes onto words that indicate grammar, Tomasello claims that there's no reason to think that there's a universal grammar that we're all born with that then has to be instantiated in these vastly different ways. In the fact of this variety, Chomsky proposed instead of an actual grammar a set of grammatical parameters, as if the particular language just has to flip a switch to enact a module that instantiates grammar via word order or suffixes. So it's possible to extend Chomsky's paradigm with added features like this, but is it worth doing so? Tomasello explains the universals we do see (e.g. the presence of nouns and verbs in all languages) as a result of common strategies for figuring out the world (it makes a lot of survival sense to break down the world into actions and objects).