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Eric Lenneburg

Language Development

  • Eric Lenneburg was born in 1921, and died at an early age of 53 in 1975. His legacy lives on through his early papers.
  • He was born in Germany, but due to Nazi persecution, his family had to leave.
  • He attended the University of Chicago and Harvard University, and was a professor of pyschology and neurobiology at Harvard, Michigan and Cornell Universities.


Eric Lenneburg was the linguist who originated the ideas on the acquisition of language and cognitive pyschology. In his 1964 paper The Capacity of Language Acquisition arguments made were then later used by Noam Chomsky.
The arguments presented in the paper were in regards to the biological innateness of pyschological capacities.
  1. Universal appearance of a trait at a single time across a species. "Species typical" traits.
  2. Universal appearance across time for a group. Not just an artifact of cultural history. Again, "species typical" diagnostic feature.
  3. No learning of the trait is possible.
  4. Individual development of a trait rigidly follows a given schedule regardless of the particular experience of the organism.