But evidence has overtaken Chomsky’s theory, which has been inching toward a slow death for years. It is dying so slowly because, as physicist Max Planck once noted, older scholars tend to hang on to the old ways: “Science progresses one funeral at a time.” …

Some native Australian languages, such as Warlpiri, had grammatical elements scattered all over the sentence — noun and verb phrases that were not “neatly packaged” so that they could be plugged into Chomsky’s universal grammar — and some sentences had no verb phrase at all.