Learning Language is Harder Than You Think

Gary Marcus in his Substack newsletter:

The intuition that language might simply be memorized has some superficial plausibility – but only if you restrict your focus to simple concrete nouns like ball and bottle. A child looks at a bottle, mama says bottle, and child associates the word bottle with the concept BOTTLE. Some tiny fragment of language may be learned this way. But this simple learning by pointing-plus-naming idea, as intuitive as it is, doesn’t get you very far.

It doesn’t work all that well for abstract nouns (what do you point to when you are talking about the word justice?). It doesn’t work particularly well for sorting the fine detail of verbs [when mama points to a dog that is barking and says bark, does the word bark refer to the act of barking or the act of sitting or the act of breathing or the act of living? or to any of the other many things that might apply to the dog at that moment?

More here.