Universal grammar rule that applies to all languages

      People who have tried learning a new language know how difficult it is to learn a different grammar. But now, experts have said that there are some grammatical rules that can be applied to all languages. Norvin Richards of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has proposed a universal rule linking intonation with where we place question-words like "what" and "who" in a sentence. This is the first time anyone has found a link between intonation and word order in questions, and it could also help explain how babies learn to speak. In some languages, a statement can be turned into a question by, for example, replacing the object of the sentence with a question-word and changing the intonation. In other languages, including English, the question-word also moves relative to the word it replaces- "Heather is buying a book" becomes "What is Heather buying?". In his new book Uttering Trees, Richards claims that by studying the complex patterns affecting intonation in different languages, he can predict whether the question-word will move and where it will go. He said that he checked this for 20 languages, such as Japanese and Basque, where the rules of intonation are precise enough for the idea to be tested. Intonation can be mapped as patterns of pitch that are separated by breaks. Richards found that whether the question-word moves relative to the word it replaces depends on whether these breaks tend to come at the beginning of phrases or at the end. "It's a really neat idea," New Scientist quoted Seth Cable, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst , as saying. Cable is reasonably convinced that the rule applies to all the languages Richards has tested, but he thinks that it is difficult to say whether it will apply to the rest of the world's languages. "If correct, it is a very important discovery," said Maria Luisa Zubizarreta at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles . Such a connection between syntax and intonation would help to explain how babies unravel word order from the continuous streams of sound that they hear, with changes in intonation acting as cues to grammar, she said.

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