There was an interesting piece in The Times yesterday about a new book, The Infinite Gift: How Children Learn and Unlearn the Languages of the World by Charles Yang of the University of Pennsylvania, in which he argues that babies are born with templates for the grammatical structures of all languages in their brains, but gradually forget them as they become familiar with the structure of their mother tongue.
Professor Yang, who’s theories are based on Noam Chomsky’s notion of universal grammar, suggests that when babies babble, they are trying out the various templates until they find one that ‘works’, i.e. that earns them encouragement and praise from their parents and others. So the strange word order or constructions young children use, might be correct in other languages. For example, the sentence ‘I want ball’ is ungrammatical in English but perfectly grammatical in Russian, Chinese and other languages which do not have articles.