The productivity of language means that there is no limit to the complexity of structure of or number of English sentences that we use and understand. We can add phrases for new animals to 'The old lady swallowed a cat that swallowed a mouse that swallowed a spider that swallowed a fly' without limit, each time creating a more complex structure. So there is no way to explain competence by listing a finite number of English sentence forms.

According to some cognitive scientists and philosophers, productivity is also a feature of human thought. One way of arguing for the extension of this feature to thought is to argue that thought shares the properties of natural languages that enables language to be indefinitely productive.

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