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  • SkinnerSkinner on Language AcquisitionAnother leading theorist pertaining to language acquisition is B. F. Skinner, a man who opposes Chomskys linguistic theory withhis behaviorist approach. Skinner believes that beahvior explains the speakers verbal activity as an effect of environmentalcontingencies: audience response. Via operant conditioning, behaviorists such as Skinner have shown that techniques of positivereinforcement shape the repertoires of individual behaviors; reinforcement of appropriate grammar and language would thereforelead to a childs acquisition of language and grammar.Chomsky devalued Skinners proposal that "It is hardly possible to argue that science has advanced only for repudiatinghypotheses concerning internal states. " Skinner retaliated by proclaiming that scientists must research this internal states of theyprove to be "the only useful guide to further research." For many years, Chomsky and other notable professors questioned thevalidity of Skinners thoughts but he declined from refuting their criticism; thus, many proclaimed Skinner to be about 35 yearsbehind his time and labeled him as one of the "psychologist nuts."Skinners Theory of Language DevelopmentBy Walter Johnson, eHowContributor , last updated November 09, 2011Skinners Theory of Language DevelopmentB.F. Skinners theory of language development is no different from his general theory of behaviorism. It is a simple theory based,like all of Skinners work, around a structure of rewards and punishments, each reinforcing certain types of behavior as good orbad. People begin to repeat actions that lead to pleasure and avoid actions that lead to pain. This is called "conditioning," whichis the same thing as creating a habit.BehaviorismSkinners theory of behaviorism is central to his view of language. Human beings define right and wrong relative to theirconditioned experienced of pleasure and pain, respectively. A certain action, if it receives a painful response, will be avoided,while those with a pleasurable response, or a reward, will be considered good. Human behavior is totally conditioned by thispleasure/pain nexus. Behavior, then, is the creation of habits—a habit is developed with an action, done repeatedly, that receivesa reward of some kind. Language is no different.FeaturesChildren begin to speak ―nonsense‖ words, or babble. None of these are provided with any reward. As soon as the child begins tomimic the language of his parents, the interest of the parent is piqued. The result is that children, when they speak a recognizableword, are rewarded by their parents. As a result, those words and phrases are remembered and the nonsense words (that get noattention) are forgotten.Sponsored LinksAnimal Behavior AnalysisLaboras: Innovative high throughput preclinical research
  • Skinners theory is extremely simple and easy to apply. This is its main benefit. People do respond to rewards, especially overtime, and become habituated to those actions that have lead to praise. This simplicity makes performing research andunderstanding behavior very easy. Humans are merely animals responding to external stimuli only.ProblemsSkinner has had his share of critics. Problems with Skinners theory of language development are substantial. Skinner does nottake into consideration the complexity of grammar, which cannot be explained through mere imitation of parents. Even more,children often have a hard time imitating the complex sounds of their parents in the first place. Writers like N. Chomsky hold thatbiological necessity is a better explanation for language development. Chomskys view, to put it simply, is that human beingsneed language to cooperate and therefore survive. Therefore, the human mind is already wired to receive language.EffectsSkinners theory reduces human beings to mere machines, or at best, bundles of nerve endings responding to external rewards andpunishments. Most of the criticism of Skinner, and Chomsky included, have considered his approach exceptionally simplistic andunable to explain the complex reasons and ideas of humans.theories of Language Development The Learning Perspective The Learning perspective argues that children imitate what they see and hear,and that children learn from punishment and reinforcement.(Shaffer,Wood,& Willoughby,2002). The main theorist associated with the learning perspective is B.F. Skinner. Skinner argued that adults shape the speech of children by reinforcing the babbling of infants that sound most like words. (Skinner,1957,as cited in Shaffer,,2002). The Nativist Perspective The nativist perspective argues that humans are biologically programmed to gainknowledge.The main theorist associated with this perspective is Noam Chomsky. Chomsky proposed that all humans have a language acqusition device (LAD). The LAD contains knowledge of grammatical rules common to all languages (Shaffer,,2002).The LAD also allows children to understand the rules of whatever language they are listening to.Chomsky also developed the concepts of transformational grammar, surface structure,and deep structure. Transformational grammar is grammar that transforms a sentence. Surface structures are words that are actually written. Deep structure is the underlying message or meaning of a sentence.
  • (Matlin,2005).Interactionist TheoryInteractionists argue that language development is both biological and social. Interactionistsargue that language learning is influenced by the desire of children to communicate with others.The Interactionists argue that "children are born with a powerful brain that matures slowly andpredisposes them to acquire new understandings that they are motivated to share with others" (Bates,1993;Tomasello,1995, as cited in shaffer,et al.,2002,p.362).The main theorist associated with interactionist theory is Lev Vygotsky.Interactionists focus onVygotskys model of collaborative learning ( Shaffer,et al.,2002). Collaborative learning is theidea that conversations with older people can help children both cognitively and linguistically (Shaffer,,2002).There is perhaps nothing more remarkable than the emergence of language in children. Haveyou ever marveled at how a child can go from saying just a few words to suddenly producingfull sentences in just a short matter of time? Researchers have found that language developmentbegins before a child is even born, as a fetus is able to identify the speech and sound patterns ofthe mothers voice. By the age of four months, infants are able to discriminate sounds and evenread lips.Researchers have actually found that infants are able to distinguish between speech sounds fromall languages, not just the native language spoken in their homes. However, this abilitydisappears around the age of 10 months and children begin to only recognize the speech soundsof their native language. By the time a child reaches age three, he or she will have a vocabularyof approximately 3,000 words.Theories of Language DevelopmentSo how exactly does language development happen? Researchers have proposed severaldifferent theories to explain how and why language development occurs. For example, thebehaviorist theory of B.F. Skinner suggests that the emergence of language is the result ofimitation and reinforcement. The nativist theory of Noam Chomsky suggests that language in aninherent human quality and that children are born with a language acquisition device that allowsthem to produce language once they have learned the necessary vocabulary.How Parents Facilitate Language DevelopmentResearchers have found that in all languages, parents utilize a style of speech with infants knownas infant-directed speech, or motherese (aka "baby talk"). If youve every heard someone speakto a baby, youll probably immediately recognize this style of speech. It is characterized by ahigher-pitched intonation, shortened or simplified vocabulary, shortened sentences andexaggerated vocalizations or expressions. Instead of saying "Lets go home," a parent mightinstead say "Go bye-bye."Infant-directed speech has been shown to be more effective in getting an infants attention aswell as aiding in language development. Researchers believe that the use of motherese helpsbabies learn words faster and easier. As children continue to grow, parents naturally adapt theirspeaking patterns to suit their childs growing linguistic skills.
  • "The principles and rules of grammar are the means by which the forms of language are made tocorrespond with the universal froms of thought....The structures of every sentence is a lesson inlogic."—John Stuart MillBIOLOGICAL BASIS OF LANGUAGE"[H]uman knowledge is organized de facto by linguistic competence through languageperformance, and our exploration of reality is always mediated by language". Most highervertebrates possess ?intuitive knowledge? which occurs as the result of slow evolution ofspecies. However, the ability to create knowledge through language is unique to humans.According to Benjamin Whorf, "language?.is not merely a reproducing instrument from voicingideas but rather is itself the shaper of ideas?. We dissect nature along lines laid down bylanguage" (Joseph 249). In addition, the development and acquisition of language seems to berelated to "complex sequential processing, and the ability to form concepts and to classify asingle stimulus in a multiple manner" (Joseph 178). AntioneDanchin suggests that theknowledge we create through language allows us distinguish ourselves from the rest of the worldto produce models of reality, which become more and more adequate due to the "self-referentloop" which enables us to understand ourselves as objects under study. This "path from subjectto object," which is common to all humans, Danchin claims, suggests the existence of auniversal feature of languageBiological foundation of language may contribute significantly to such universality. The issuehere is not whether language is innate, for, clearly, language must be learned. Nor is the issuewhether the aptitude for learning a language is inborn: it takes a human being, with a functionalbrain to learn a tongue. The question to explore is whether there is biological foundation at theroot of organization and internal structure of language.The scholars considering spoken language acquisition have divided over internal and externalcausation dichotomy. Two prototypical models of language acquisition are "selectivist" and"constructivist" models, respectively. The selectivist model, which depends on internal causationargument, can be associated with Noam Chomsky. The selectivist model assumes that "languagetemplate is pre-organized in the neuronal structure of the brain, so that the fact of being anintegral part of a given environment selects the borders of each individual neuronal structure,without affecting its fine organization, which pre-exists" (Danchin 30). The constructivistmodel, which assumes external causation of language acquisition, follows lines drawn bybehaviorists such as Piaget and Skinner. This model assumes that "language is built upconstantly from a continuous interaction with a well-structured environment"NOAM CHOMSKYS VIEW ON LANGUAGENoam Chomsky basic argument is that there exists an innate language acquisition device, aneural program that prepares them to learn language (Kandel 638). Chomsky assumes theexistence of a genetically determined system of rules, which he refers to as universal grammar,underlying all tongues. According to Chomsky, a language template is set up by the special"language organ" of the brain. Chomsky does not deny that the importance of environmentalfactors in language acquisition. His claim is that there exist strict biological invariants governing
  • the function of language. In explanation of his theory on the ontogenesis of spoken language,Chomsky holds there pre-exists in humans, a language structure that isone of the faculties of the mind, common to the species,?a faculty of language that serves thetwo basic functions of rationalist theory: it provides a sensory system for the preliminaryanalysis of linguistic data, and a schematism that determines, quite narrowly, a certain class ofgrammars. Each grammar is a theory of a particular language, specifying oral and semanticproperties of an infinite array of sentences. These sentences, each with its particular structure,constitute the language generated by the grammar. The languages so generated are those that canbe "learned" in the normal way?. This knowledge can then be used to understand what is heardand to produce discourse as an expression of thought within the constraints of the internalizedprinciples, in a manner appropriate to situations as these are conceived by other mental faculties,free of stimulus controlB.F. SKINNERS VIEW ON LANGUAGEBehaviorists view the process of language acquisition as a building process that results frominteraction with the environment. In outlining his assertion that humans acquire spoken languageas a result of behavioral conditioning. B.F. Skinner writes:A child acquires verbal behavior when relatively unpattterned vocalizations, selectivelyreinforced, gradually assume forms which produce appropriate consequences in a given verbalcommunity. In formulating this process we do not feed to mention stimuli occurring prior to thebehavior to be reinforced. It is difficult, if not impossible, to discover stimuli which evokespecific vocal responses in the young child. There is no stimulus which makes a child say b or aor e, as one may make him salivate by placing a lemon drop in his mouth or make his pupilscontract by shining a light into his eyes. The raw responses from which verbal behavior isconstructed are not "elicited." In order to reinforce a given response we simply wait until itoccurs.Skinner views the child as the "passive subject of operant conditioning in whom randomlyoccurring behavior is selectively reinforced"Skinners seminal work, Verbal Behaviour (1957), begins with a chapter called, "A functionalanalysis of verbal behaviour". However, you should be aware that his theory is very far from thefunctional, or sociocultural, approach to language, which is followed in this subject. You willalso become aware that the antecedents of the sociocultural approach to language whichunderpin this subject, preceded the work of B. F. Skinner by several decades. Nevertheless, thissection begins with an introduction to B. F. Skinners theory of language as verbal behaviour(1957). This is partly because his learning theory was transposed into language teachingmethodologies prior to that transposition of the work of linguistic anthropologists and linguiststo language pedagogies; and partly because Skinners theory has had such definite, and enduring,influences on language teaching. The residual echoes of his theory can be heard every time oneof us mentions positive reinforcement (or negative reinforcement, for that matter) and histheory is operational every time one of us includes a teaching practice which begins with drillsand grammar study decontextualised from meaning. Skinner rejected the very idea of meaning.Skinners view of meaning can be seen in his comment which follows:As Jespersen [a significant linguist and grammarian whose major work, Language, waspublished in 1922] said many years ago, "The only unimpeachable definition of a word is that itis a human habit." Unfortunately, he felt it necessary to add, "an habitual act on the part of onehuman individual which has, or may have, the effect of evoking some idea in the mind of
  • another individual." Similarly, Betrand Russell asserts that "just as jumping is one class the word dog is [another] class," but he adds that words differ from other classesof bodily movements because they have "meaning". In both cases something has been added toan objective description (Skinner 1957: 13). Chomsky VS Skinner There are two basic theories for language acquisition. Noam Chomsky’s theory, which is believed people have a basic pattern of learning language inside of their brain since they were born. On the other hand, B. F. Skinner’s theory which is believed people have to be taught how to speak by someone for language acquisition. I mostly agree with Chomsky theory and partly Skinner theory. People usually don’t remember how they learned to speak, but everybody speaks their first language without any problems. Some Children even speak more than two languages naturally. Language is a unique system which only humans have. However, if it’s correct rules or grammars of language people might have to study. There also seems to be critical period for learning language. People speak their language without studying. It means people already have an ability of language pattern in their brain. When I was in elementary school there were Japanese classes. I studied writing and reading but not speaking. I could already speak Japanese. I have a two year old niece. She has already started speaking. Of course she has never studied. So, people must have some kind of language ability innately. According to an article I saw in, Chomsky says “human brain contains a language acquisition device (LAD) which automatically analyzes the components of speech a child hears.” I support this theory. The human brain has special function, unlikely other animals. That’s why only humans speak languages. Learning language for a human is very easy because the human brain already contains ability of language, so even children start to speak language naturally in their early age. People in young age are very easy to acquire more than two languages at same time. Even if those languages are very different, and their parents don’t speak those languages. It also proves people must have an ability to function in any language innately. In contrast theory, there is a very famous case. A girl, Genie, was language got deprived during her critical period, which is considered to be between 4 and 12, of learning first language, and she couldn’t acquire her language skill normally even though she studied. This fact supports B. F. Skinner’s theory. However, this is a very unusual case. She might not have only language problem, but even mental problem since she was locked in a room for 13 years. There is also a proof that Genie was about speak without studying right after she was locked up. “since her mother reported that she heard Genie saying words right after she was locked up” from THE CIVILIZING OF GENIE by MAYA PINES. Since Genie’s case was discovered, Chomsky added to his theory that “the innate mechanisms that underlie this competence must be activated by exposure to language at the proper time” from THE CIVILIZING OF GENIE by MAYA PINES. This theory got little closer to B. F Skinner’s theory. Even young children speak language without learning, but they often make mistakes in their speech. While they are growing, their number of mistakes in their speech decreases. They are learning how
  • to speak, so in this case some part of Skinner’s theory is also correct.Similarly, learning second language for people in older age supports Skinner’s theory.People have to keep learning language to improve their second language. It hardlyever gets perfect because people have to learn all rules and structures from beginningwhich don’t apply to their first language. If we have learning language systeminnately, why can’t we easily adjust to speak another language? We can’t applyChomsky’s theory at all in this case.In conclusion, until people reach critical period of learning language, people learntheir language automatically without being taught because of their innate ability oflanguage. Furthermore, if there are more than two languages which children hear,children will be able to acquire both of them at the same time. Nevertheless, theability of language has to be activated in the first place by something. Otherwise,people never begin to acquire their language. Once people past the critical period, it ishard to learn any language. Thereby, people in older age usually have problemlearning second language. Both Chomsky’s and Skinner’s theories are correct indifferent cases and language acquisition system works with both of them together.Whats in a sound?We define speech sounds in terms of their descriptivefeatures and use these features to classify the soundaccording to the source of the sound in the vocal tractand the shape of the vocal tract.Speech sounds can be classified as either vowels orconsonants.Consonants: The air does not flow freelyVowels: Lets air flow freely, shape of vocal tract isaltered to create different sounds.Consonants are classified by:1) Voicing2) Manner of production For a more detailed description of phonology and sounds click the link3) Place of articulation below. You can click on the tables and click the symbols to hear how each sounds. It is neat!1) Voiced vs. Unvoiced IPA Chart
  • Voiced: A voiced sound is when the vocal folds vibratewhich feels like a buzzing sensation in the throat. Suchsounds could be v and z. These sounds can be eitherhummed or sung.Example: Put your fingers on the front of your throatand say v.Unvoiced: Unvoiced sounds do not cause the vocalfolds to vibrate, instead, the unvoiced sounds areproduced typically by turbulence also know as airstreamfriction. This friction produces a hissing sound and is Something very interesting is howproduced when air is forced through a small gap such as children all share commonbetween the teeth and tongue. Such sounds include f phonological processes and errors.and s. Ex: stopping, voicing, consonant cluster reduction, etc. To learn moreExample: Put your fingers on the front of your throat about the errors and processesand say F and then compare it to V. children go through, I highlyFeel the difference?? encourage you to click the link below and take a look at a site by Caroline Bowen.Here are some pairs of voiced/unvoiced sounds: Caroline Bowens siteb/p, v/f, d/t, g/k, z/s.2) Manner of productionstops- air flow stopped completely ex: p, k, dfricatives: flow restricted but not stopped ex: f, v, saffricates: stop then fricative ex: ch, djglides: w, jliquids: r, lnasals: n, m3) Place of articulationBilabial: lips together: b, p, mLabiodental: lip to teeth: f, vInterdental: tongue between teeth: th in that and th inthin
  • Alveolar: tip of tongue on alveolar ridge: z, t, d Palatal: tongue on palate: r, dj, gh Velar: roll tongue to back of throat: k, ng (sing), g Glottal: back bottom of throat: hWhat are the main aspects we are dealing with here?Phonology PragmaticsPhonology is the study of sounds in a language. Pragmatics is the study of the use of language. Deals with the intentionsPhoneme: the basic unit of sound. behind the utterances. SyntaxSemantics Syntax is the study of the structure of language and how words can beSemantics is the study of the meaning of language formed to create gramatically correct sentences.Morpheme: The smallest unit of sound to carrymeaning.Theories of language and mindPinker is known within psychology for his theory of language acquisition, his research on thesyntax, morphology, and meaning of verbs, and his criticism of connectionist (neural network)models of language. In The Language Instinct (1994) he popularized Noam Chomskys work onlanguage as an innate faculty of mind, with the twist that this faculty evolved by naturalselection as a Darwinian adaptation for communication, although both ideas remaincontroversial (see below). He also defends the idea of a complex human nature which comprisesmany mental faculties that are adaptive (and is an ally of Daniel Dennett and RichardDawkins in many disputes surrounding adaptationism). Another major theme in Pinkers theoriesis that human cognition works, in part, by combinatorial symbol-manipulation, not justassociations among sensory features, as in many connectionist models.Language Instinct? Gradualistic Natural Selection is not a good enough explanation[now see also:Ascent of Intelligence and How Children acquire Language]
  • Steven Pinkers The Language Instinct was a comprehensive and ambitious attempts to accountfor the origin of language. It approached the topic from within the Chomskyan framework(Chomskyan linguists have generally remained silent about language evolution). Language, hesaid, was not a cultural artifact but a distinct piece of the biological make up of the brain. Wewould all agree that a biological and essentially evolutionary approach is desirable, thoughlanguage instinct already begs many questions. Chomskys concept of Universal Grammar iswell known: the brain must contain a recipe or program that can build an unlimited number ofsentences from a finite list of words; the program may be called a mental grammar; children -grammatical geniuses - must innately be equipped with a plan common to the grammars of alllanguages that tells them how to extract the syntactic patterns from the speech of their parents.However Pinker did not share Chomskys scepticism about whether Darwinian natural selectioncan explain the origins of the language organ. This paper seeks to identify where, at a number ofimportant points, Pinkers account seems unsatisfactory, for example: the idea that languagecould have developed, like the eye, by minute steps, under the pressure of natural selection, theidea that eventually neuroscientists will be able to locate a language organ, or behaviouralgeneticists discover a grammar gene, the postulation of a uniform distinct language of thought,mentalese, to be translated into any particular spoken language, his discussion of thearbitrariness of the sign, his account of the acquisition of language by children.Steven Pinkers The Language Instinct was published in 1994 and was received as one of themost complete and carefully argued accounts of the evolution of language. In speaking aboutlanguage as an instinct he recognised that the term is no longer thought appropriate in modernbiology but said that he was following in the footsteps of Charles Darwin who had describedlanguage as half-art and half-instinct; Darwins account of the gradual evolution of instinctsgenerally by natural selection could be applied also to the human acquisition of the capacity forlanguage. Darwin was writing at a time when the modern science of language did not exist; heclaimed no particular expertise in the discussion of language generally or of particularlanguages. By contrast Pinker accepts Chomskys current theoretical account of language andparticularly Chomskys concept of Universal Grammar. The essential feature of this in itspresent form is termed by Chomsky the Principles and Parameters approach, that is, theunderlying structures of language, the grammar, are innate and the same for all humans;different languages are the result of ascribing binary values to a small set of parameters. Thesimplest illustration of a parameter is the choice of Head first or Head last; depending on whichchoice is made, a language is either SOV or SVO with many associated orderings in otheraspects of syntax. For Pinker, following Chomsky, syntax is the key productive aspect oflanguage and lexicon is subordinate. If, as Pinker intends, one seeks to present a persuasiveaccount of the evolution of language, it is of the first importance to settle how best languageshould be characterized.In a critique of The Language Instinct (1994), there are several complexly interlocking issues.The first is whether the account of language given currently by Chomsky, and accepted byPinker, is adequate or plausible. The second is whether a gradualistic account of the evolution ofthe Chomskyan language system is conceivable. The third is Pinkers treatment of relatedquestions such as the acquisition of grammar by children, the acquisition of lexicon. The fourthis the plausibility in terms of brain evolution, brain structure and function of Pinkers approach.The fifth is, as Pinker puts it, if Chomsky rejects the idea of the evolution of language by naturalselection, what alternative is there?On the first issue, the adequacy and plausibility of Chomskys account, books have been writtenand controversy rages. So a contemporary linguist, Givon (1984), speaks about Chomskys utterdisregard for the nature and significance of cross-language typological variability which allowedhim, on the basis only of English syntax, to make sweeping assumptions about typological-syntactic universals; Givon accordingly rejects all the tenets of the transformational-generative
  • tradition. Here I will only attempt to note the main features of the Chomskyan theory, as far aspossible using Pinker and Chomskys own words so that one can get a clearer idea of whatsystem it is that Pinker believes has evolved gradually by natural selection. A preliminaryobservation is that for Chomsky, and for Pinker, the issues of the biological basis of languageand the acquisition of language by children are closely linked; Chomskys ideas of UniversalGrammar are very much framed to account for the rapid acquisition of language by children.3. Pinkers IdeasThere are some problems in presenting his ideas concisely and clearly. Comments on differenttopics, instinct, syntax, lexicon, language acquisition are scattered across the chapters; the firstrather pedestrian task is to bring the related ideas together. All page references unless otherwiseindicated are to The Language Instinct (Pinker 1994); I include them where the wording isPinkers own or a very close paraphrase of it.3.1 Chomskys Universal GrammarPinkers presentation is largely contained in Chapter 4 How Language Works and the followingpoints are mainly taken from that. For Pinker, Chomskys writings are classics. Chomskys claimthat, from a Martians-eye-view, all humans speak a single language is based on the discoverythat the same symbol- manipulating machinery, underlies the worlds languages. UniversalGrammar is like an archetypal body plan found across vast numbers of animals in a phylum(238-9), a common plan of syntactic, morphological, and phonological rules and principles, witha small set of varying parameters. Once set, a parameter can produce far-reaching changes in thesuperficial appearance of the language. One of the most intriguing discoveries is that thereappears to be a common anatomy in all phrases in all the worlds languages. Phrase structure isthe kind of stuff language is made of; traces, cases, X-bars, and the other paraphernalia of syntaxare colourless, odourless, and tasteless, but they, or something like them, must be a part of ourunconscious mental life (124). The universal plan underlying languages, with auxiliaries andinversion rules, nouns and verbs, subjects and objects, phrases and clauses, cases and agreement,and so on, seem to suggest a commonality in the brains of speakers, because many other planswould have been just as useful (43).3.2 Chomsky and the acquisition of language by childrenChildren must innately be equipped with a plan common to the grammars of all language, aUniversal Grammar, that tells them how to distil the syntactic patterns out of the speech of theirparents. The unordered super-rules (principles) are universal and innate; when children learn aparticular language, they do not have to learn a long list of rules, because they are born knowingthe super-rules (112). All they have to learn is whether their particular language has theparameter head-first, as in English, or head-last, as in Japanese. If the verb comes before theobject, the child concludes that the language is head-first as if the child were merely flipping aswitch to one of two possible positions. The way language works is that each persons braincontains a lexicon of words and the concepts they stand for (a mental dictionary) and a set ofrules that combine the words to convey relationships among concepts (a mental grammar) (85).3.3 Chomsky as the starting point3.3.1 A general commentThere are risks in taking Chomskys current theories as the basis for an attempt to present aplausible account of the evolution of language. The most striking aspect of the history ofChomskys linguistic theories is how rapidly and frequently they have changed over the yearssince his first work Syntactic Structures appeared in 1957 and the transformational-generativeapproach was born. Most of the key features of that approach have now been abandoned; deep
  • structure from being the foundation of theory has shrunk and virtually disappeared, the idea oftransformation has been abandoned; whilst language is still regarded, in a broad sense, as agenerative process (new sentences created from a limited set of words and syntactic processes),the technicalities of generation have also disappeared; Chomsky has moved from a systemwhich placed exclusive emphasis on syntax to one which begins to recognize the importancealso of lexicon, moving from the transformational- generative approach to government andbinding to principles and parameters. Specifically, Pinker explains that Chomsky wants toeliminate the idea that there is a special phrase structure underlying a sentence called d-structure,a single framework for the entire sentence into which the verbs are then plugged. The suggestedreplacement is to have each verb come with a chunk of phrase structure preinstalled; thesentence is assembled by snapping together the various chunks. Pinker comments that deepstructure is a prosaic technical gadget in grammatical theory, not what is universal across allhuman languages; many linguists - including, in his most recent writings, Chomsky himself -think one can do without deep structure per se. In a recent interview (Grewendorf 1993),Chomsky was asked whether generative grammar had gone astray at some point; he admittedthat in retrospect there had been some wrong turnings and that a really significant change tookplace about 1980; this, unlike earlier work in generative grammar, constituted a major break anddispensed entirely with both rules and constructions which he described as taxonomic artifactsof early generative grammar; there have been a lot of changes in the theory since 1980.3.3.2 Pinkers own problem with ChomskyWhilst accepting Chomskys current principles and parameters approach Pinker makes someeffort to distance himself from Chomsky, no doubt partly because he does not wish to becommitted to deriving Chomskys concepts in detail from evolutionary natural selection (hemakes no attempt to do this) but also because there is the major difficulty that Chomsky himselfhas consistently rejected the idea that language could have evolved by natural selection. Pinkersays that Chomskys arguments about the nature of the language faculty are based on technicalanalyses of word and sentence structure, often couched in abstruse formulations; his discussionsof flesh-and-blood speakers are perfunctory and highly idealized; "Chomskys theory need notbe treated ... as a set of cabalistic incantations that only the initiated can mutter" (104). Pinkeradmits to being deeply influenced by Chomsky. "But it is not his story exactly... Chomsky haspuzzled many readers with his skepticism about whether Darwinian natural selection ... canexplain the origins of the language organ he argues for" (24). Chomsky and some of his fiercestopponents agree on one thing, that a uniquely human language instinct seems to be incompatiblewith the modern Darwinian theory of evolution, in which complex biological systems arise bythe gradual accumulation over generations of random genetic mutations that enhancereproductive success." (333) Chomsky thinks that "to attribute this development to naturalselection .. amounts to nothing more than a belief that there is some naturalistic explanation forthese phenomena... it is not easy even to imagine a course of selection that might have given riseto them" (354).3.4 Language organ and/or language instinct?3.4.1 The analogy with the evolution of the eyeRejecting Chomskys scepticism, Pinker suggests that language should be considered as anevolutionary adaptation like the eye, its major parts designed to carry out important functions.Chomsky speaks about the language organ and language is assumed to be a distinct brainmodule. The evolution of the eye was a central debating point between proponents andopponents of Darwinian natural selection; Darwin himself offered a gradualistic account whichhas been taken up and refined many times, most notably recently by Richard Dawkins (1986). Aplausible account has been given of how even a rudimentary eye could be selected and increasethe fitness of the individual in whom the advance took place; each small improvement in the
  • functioning of the eye would promote survival of the individual and the individuals offspringcarrying the gene for the improved eye. Maynard Smith and Szathmary in their recent The MajorTransitions in Evolution (1995) also pick up the analogy between development of the eye andthe development of language. This is perhaps not surprising since admittedly they relied heavilyon two sources, Bickertons (1990) book and Pinker and Blooms 1990 article whichforeshadowed The Language Instinct.3.4.2 The analogy with the evolution of instinctsLanguage is a distinct piece of the biological makeup of the brain (18). The universality ofcomplex language is the first reason to suspect that language is the product of a special humaninstinct. If language is an instinct, it should have an identifiable seat in the brain, and perhapseven a special set of genes that help wire it into place (45-46). If language is like other instincts,presumably it evolved by natural selection, the only successful scientific explanation of complexbiological traits (354), the only alternative (Pinkers emphasis) that can explain the evolution of acomplex organ like the eye or like language. Each step in the evolution of a language instinct, upto and including the most recent ones, must enhance fitness (366- 367), the gradualaccumulation over generations of random genetic mutations that increase reproductive success(333). The language instinct is composed of many parts: syntax, with its discrete combinatorialsystem building phrase structures; morphology, a second combinatorial system building words, acapacious lexicon; a revamped vocal tract; phonological rules and structures; speech perception;parsing algorithms, learning algorithms (362). Pinker on the evolution of language by natural selectionChapter 11 is entitled The Big Bang. Pinker admits that there are genuine problems inreconstructing how the language faculty might have evolved by natural selection (365),problems particularly with any gradualistic account. The problems relate both to finding aplausible account for the transitional stages between the first human articulations and thecomplexities of language as it exists, in all its varieties, today and also to accounting, inbiological and genetic terms, for the acquisition of language by children.To attribute the basic design of the language instinct to natural selection is not to indulge in just-so storytelling (364). Possibly there was the first grammar mutant, that is the first individualundergoing a genetic change which produced some capacity, however limited, for syntax; theneighbours could have partly understood what the mutant was saying just using overallintelligence. If a grammar mutant is making important distinctions that can be decoded by othersonly with uncertainty and great mental effort, it could set up a pressure for them to evolve thematching system that allows those distinctions to be recovered reliably by an automatic,unconscious, parsing process (365). Selection could have ratcheted up language abilities byfavouring the speakers in each generation that the hearers could best decode, and the hearerswho could best decode the speakers. Intermediate grammars are easy to imagine (366). Pinkersuggests, following Bickerton, that the languages of children, pidgin speakers, immigrants,tourists, aphasics, telegrams, and headlines show that there is a vast continuum of viablelanguage systems varying in efficiency and expressive power, exactly what the theory of naturalselection requires (366). However " Bickerton makes the jaw-dropping additional suggestionthat a single mutation in a single woman, African Eve, simultaneously wired-in syntax, resizedand reshaped the skull, and reworked the vocal tract" (366). Syntax is a Darwinian organ ofextreme perfection and complication (124).For the origin of language, in all its complexity, Bickertons suggestion is as improbable as theidea (advanced by Hoyle as a criticism of evolutionary theory and discussed by RichardDawkins) that hurricanes might by chance assemble a jetliner from a scrapyard containing theaircraft parts. Stone Age people have been found with high-tech grammars (409). If the firsttrace of a protolanguage ability appeared in the ancestor at the split between chimps and human
  • branches there could have been on the order of 350,000 generations between then and now forthe ability to have been elaborated and fine-tuned to the Universal Grammar we see today.Language could have had a gradual fade- in. There were plenty of organisms with intermediatelanguage abilities but they are all dead (345-346). The utility of language development isobvious; people everywhere depend on cooperative efforts for survival, forming alliances byexchanging information and commitments; this puts complex grammar to good use (368). "Butcould these exchanges really have produced the rococo complexity of human grammar?" (368)A cognitive arms race could easily propel a linguistic one. In all cultures, social interactions aremediated by persuasion and argument (368). Anthropologists have noted that tribal chiefs areoften both gifted orators and highly polygynous; this is how linguistic skills could make aDarwinian difference in a world in which language in relationships played a key roles inindividual reproductive success (369). Childrens acquisition of languageGrammar: Pinker comments on "the mystery of how childrens grammar explodes into adultlikecomplexity in so short a time" (112). "Do grammar genes really exist or is the whole idea justloopy?" (322). Childrens rapid acquisition of syntax is possible because they are born with thesuper-rules hard-wired into their brains; all the child has to do is to attach the right values to theparameters which determine what the structure of the local language is by listening to the speechof their parents (22).Lexicon: The other startling aspect of childrens acquisition of language is the acquisition of thewords of the local language. One extraordinary feature of the lexicon is the sheer capacity formemorization that goes into building it (typically more than 60,000 words) (149). Preliteratechildren must be lexical vacuum cleaners, inhaling a new word every two hours, day in, day out(151-152). A name is rapidly acquired because of the harmony between the mind of the child,the mind of the adult, and the texture of reality (157). Somehow a baby must intuit the correctmeaning of a word; humans are innately constrained to make only certain kinds of guesses abouthow the world and its occupants work. The word-learning baby has a brain that carves the worldup into discrete, bounded, cohesive objects and into the actions that they undergo; the babyforms mental categories that lump together objects that are of the same kind; babies are designedto expect a language to contain words for kinds of objects and kinds of actions - nouns and verbs(153). There really are things and kinds of things and actions out there in the world, and ourmind is designed to find them and label them with words (153). Since word boundaries do notphysically exist, it is remarkable that children are so good at finding them (267).Each persons brain contains a lexicon of words and the concepts they stand for (a mentaldictionary); the mental dictionary seems like nothing more than a humdrum list of words, eachtranscribed into the head by a dull-witted rote memorization (126). A word is a pure symbol; therelation between its sound and meaning is utterly arbitrary (151-2) , a wholly conventionalpairing of a sound with a meaning. Dog means dog only because every English speaker hasundergone an identical act of rote learning in childhood that links the sound to the meaning (83-84).4. Critical IssuesThe above conflation of extracts from The Language Instinct show some of the difficulties thatany theory of the gradual evolution of language has to face. I would pick out as the key issues,both for the evolution of language and for the directly related question of the biological basis forchildrens acquisition of language:1. The genetic basis of the language capacity. He posits language evolution by minimal stepswith, in some sense, the existence of grammar genes and grammar gene mutations.
  • 2. The relation of inclusive fitness and language evolution. How if the total system of language,and of languages, evolved by minimal changes, minimal additions to the system, could theseminimal changes have increased the fitness (reproductive success) of the individuals who firstmanifested them?3. Language as a property of the social framework, of the individual only as a member of thegroup. A minimal change in language by an individual is of no value unless it is a change whichis shared in comprehension and production by other members of the group.4. Gradual evolution of grammar (syntax). Pinker and Chomsky concentrate on syntax in thenarrow sense of phrase structure. They underrate the complexities of grammar in a moretraditional sense, the complicated tense, declension and classification systems of manylanguages. In these languages refinements of use and meaning are achieved through lexicalvariation, complex modifications of root-words or through individual function words.5. The source of the lexicon. Pinker and Chomsky treat the remarkable evolution of the lexiconsof many different languages as a relatively trivial matter but it is not.6. Acceptance of the lexicon within the group. Evolution of the lexicon means both the additionof new words to refer to new aspects of the natural or social environment and the modificationof words to express different relationships between one word and another. If, as Pinker(following Saussure) suggests, all this lexical evolution is arbitrary, with no relation between thesound-structure of a word and its meaning, then by what process can the lexical evolution havetaken place since it must depend on the adoption of the arbitrary word or word-form by membersof the speech-group?7. Childrens rapid acquisition of the lexicon. Acquisition of lexicon by children is described as asimple matter of rote-learning, or alternatively as a pre-ordained matching of labels to pre-existing neurally-based concepts in the infant.8. The relation between language evolution and brain evolution, whether the neural basis of thelanguage capacity is a single module (language as a brain organ).4.1 Language as instinct or organ?Instinct: Pinker comments that to use the term instinct in relation to language is quaint(18) butit is worse than quaint. It immediately establishes a misleading picture of the nature of thelanguage capacity. No doubt Darwin spoke about language as being half-art and half-instinct,that is, language was not an instinct like those observed in bees, rabbits or birds. To call anyaspect of human behaviour instinct can mean no more than that it has a biological basis, agenetic basis. The confusion is made worse when language is also treated as an organ like theeye. An organ is not an instinct but a structure. Both organ and instinct are misleading whenapplied to language. Language is both physiologically and neurologically based; it depends onthe articulatory structures for producing speech-sound, on the brain for the muscular control ofthose structures and for the relation between the speech-sound and the percept or action to whichthe speech-sound relates. The idea that language is an instinct and thus must have a specific seatin the brain suggests that the language capacity must be localised in some area of the brain;evidence from recent research using PET and MRI brain- imaging (see, for example, the PETimages in chapter 5 Interpreting Words in Images of the Mind Posner and Raichle 1994) thatmany parts of the brain are involved in the production of a spoken utterance; different areas ofthe brain are activated for different aspects of speech. Whether or not instincts in general can betraced to a special set of genes, and this appears questionable even if one accepts the loose use ofthe term instinct, the idea that the whole of what is required for language could ever be traced toa limited number of genes seems totally implausible.
  • Organ: Pinker treats language as a complex organ like the eye. Language is not an organ and isnot like the eye. The eye is a diversified physical structure which is of no use without the neuralconnections within the brain which interpret the patterns of light falling on the retina. If Pinkerhad said that language is like the visual system as a whole, or like the perceptual capacity as awhole, including the brain connections which integrate these systems, this would have beenmore plausible. What is more like the eye is the whole articulatory system with the auditorystructures but these are structures which evolved to serve functions completely distinct fromlanguage; the new aspect of language is the use the brain makes of these pre-existing structures.4.2 Language complexifying by natural selection?When Pinker says flatly that natural selection is the only successful explanation and that naturalselection is gradualistic, this is too sweeping. In the Darwinian system, natural selection is seenas the operative force which has quite recently been given a more precise application by theintroduction of the concept of inclusive fitness, the genetic interpretation of Darwins originalconcept. However, in the case of humans there can also be cultural selection, behaviouralselection at the group level, where the patterns of behaviour adopted are not tied to individualgenetic differences. Even in terms of genetic evolution, natural selection does not simply meanthat every system, every aspect of behaviour and use of any structures, must be the result ofgradual change, genetic change, directed solely to that use or behaviour. Darwin himselfrecognised that complex structures which evolved by gradualistic natural selection, could indifferent environments be put to new uses quite different from those which gradual naturalselection had first produced. The example Darwin gave was the transformation of the swim-bladder into the lung; whether the lung or the swim-bladder came first and was in some fishconverted into the other, the point remains the same: that a complex structure developed to serveone function was transferred to serve a quite different function. Other examples can be found inthe development of limbs for locomotion into wings for flying or fins for swimming, of musclesinto electric organs in some fish, of gills into the structures of the ear, of the tracheae into wingsin insects. The essential point is that complexity developed for one function could come to serveas complexity for a quite different function. More significantly, in thinking about language andindeed other functions, the neural organization for supporting one function, e.g. respiration,swallowing, mastication, locomotion, became adapted to serving the new function, e.g. speech-sound production, flying, swimming.4.3 Language complexity driving inclusive fitness?Pinker says that each step in the evolutionary development of language must have enhancedfitness; he has to say this to attribute the evolution of language to gradualistic natural selectionof language as a distinct organ, instinct or function. That the advance of language from the mostprimitive articulation to the perfection of the systems of fully developed languages was due to itscontribution to fitness seems unlikely. Fitness as a concept applies to the individual and not tothe group or society; fitness depends on genetic change in the individual. Pinker makes no morethan a rhetorical attempt to justify the idea that even the limited aspects of language on which heand Chomsky concentrate could have brought added fitness to any individual. If one confinesattention to the evolution of grammar alone, it is hard to believe that the complexities of theGreek, Russian or German grammatical systems, the development of the subjunctive, the middleand passive voices, perfective and imperfective aspects of the verb, case systems, could be theproduct of minute changes resulting from genetic mutation, could be linked to genetic change inan individual which increased that individuals reproductive success, that individuals inclusivefitness.Pinker recognises that his approach may be criticised as Just-So story telling and denies that thisis so. However at many points this is exactly what it is. He antedates the first rudiments oflanguage as far back as the split between the human and chimpanzee lines, making available he
  • says genetic change over some 350,000 generations for the refinement of the language capacity.He speaks about the first grammar mutant. What conceivably would the first grammar mutantbe, what genetic mutation on Pinkers scheme would account for this? This seems a phrase forwhich Pinker provides no content. Whatever grammar mutant may mean, a mutation in anisolated individual could have no more effect on the social development of language thanmutation producing any other abnormality. He suggests that neighbours of grammar mutantswould come to understand through using their overall intelligence, but they could not decode thebehaviour of the grammar mutant unless they already had brains adapted to appreciate therefinement the grammar mutant was producing. This is a quite superficial attempt to tackle whatover the centuries had been seen as the great problem about any suggestion that language, or anyaspects of language, could have been invented by an individual; language and languages aresocial constructs, not the special capacity of any individual. Neighbours (without languagecapacity) could no more by general intelligence decode the grammar mutant than we could bygeneral intelligence decode the meaning of bird-song. Pinker goes further and makes theextraordinary suggestion that the grammar mutation in the individual would create pressure onthe neighbours to evolve a matching system, a parsing system which would enable them tocomprehend, and use, the genetic language change in the first individual. This offers the bizarrepicture of the individual in whom the capacity for the subjunctive developed, using this capacity,transmitting it over generations to his offspring, whilst others, at the incredibly slow pace ofgenetic change over generations, evolved to the point where they in their turn were able to usethe subjunctive; it is equally implausible to think that a similar process could apply to othergrammatical aspects, the refinements of the case system, the development of modal forms and soon. Neighbours could not by general intelligence bring about genetic change in themselves as abasis for an improved language capacity. Pinker suggests that speakers that others could bestdecode would be favoured but, ex hypothesi, others would not have undergone the geneticchanges required to make use of the advances in language made by the best speakers. He makesthe point that language would be socially useful, social interactions are mediated by persuasionand argument, more specifically that complex grammar would be put to good use in exchanginginformation and commitments. Obviously language is useful for humans in social interaction butwhether the complex grammatical structures are required or give any particular addedevolutionary benefit to the individual or the group seems quite uncertain. Language, he says,could have advanced as a result of a cognitive arms race propelling a linguistic arms race; acognitive arms race presumably means that more intelligent, more perceptive, more creativeindividuals survived and achieved greater inclusive fitness, that is, their more intelligent,perceptive and creative children also survived and they competed among themselves ingenerating beneficial changes in language. What exactly is meant by a linguistic arms race? AnOxford or Cambridge debating society? A parliament? An election campaign? Applied tocommunities of hunter- gatherers, or warring tribes (depending on which view one takes of theearly social states of human beings) the idea seems improbable. Pinker then produces hiscrowning suggestion, that tribal chiefs are judged by anthropologists to be both polygynous andgifted orators and accordingly one might suppose they achieved the reproductive successthrough their superior linguistic skills. The instruments of tribal chiefs in achieving reproductivesuccess, or success in other ways, are not their language skills but others such as size, physicalstrength, rapidity and ruthlessness of action, kinship.4.4 Intermediate grammars?In saying that grammars of intermediate complexity are easy to imagine, Pinker adoptsBickertons suggestion (also taken up by Maynard Smith and Szathmary) that grades ofprotolanguage might resemble pidgin, the speech of tourists, immigrants, aphasics, wolf-children. Pinker makes no attempt to give any specific illustration of this. The deviant formsresult from the degeneration of already existing fully developed languages; to suppose that in thetotal absence of structured language these forms could come into existence is highly unlikely.The fact that, as Pinker says, Stone Age people may have high-tech grammars (presumably
  • meaning elaborately-structured forms) speaks against rather than for the idea that language mayhave evolved as a distinct function (instinct, organ) by gradualistic natural selection. How couldthese primitive peoples by genetic change evolve their high-tech languages, when in manycases they did not succeed in evolving a number system going beyond One, Two, Three? Weretheir chiefs busy developing case and tense systems, phrase structures, word-order, nouns, verbs,prepositions, conjunctions? Pinker suggests that the gradual evolution of language may havetaken place over an extremely long period allowing for 350,000 generations of random geneticchange producing minor changes in language. To produce complex and refined languages overthis period by a succession of random genetic changes seems quite as implausible as thesuggestion by Bickerton that the language capacity might have been the result of one massivesuper-mutation in a single individual (African Eve). Because no plausible account can be givenof the step-by-step growth of language by random genetic change, Pinker proposes that theremust have been thousands of organisms, and presumably thousands of speech-communities,with intermediate capacities between animal grunts and the Greek, Chinese, or Germanlanguages, but sadly all these organisms and communities disappeared without trace. There is noevidence for this and it remains the sheerest speculation.4.5 Evolution of language acquisition by children?Pinker is more specific about the capacities the gradual evolution of language by naturalselection should have provided to enable children to acquire the local language as rapidly as theydo. He suggests that childrens brains must be structured from birth in particular ways, first byhaving grammatical super-rules hard-wired, with provision for a few parameters to be givenspecific values derived from the childs exposure to the local language, and secondly by havingthe ability to attach the locally-correct labels to the objects and actions of the local environment.Pinker does not discuss exactly what super-rules are hard-wired and how this hard-wiring mightbe produced in neural organisation. As regards parameter setting, the suggestion by Pinker (andChomsky) is that children decide whether the local language is SOV or SVO by observingwhether the verb comes first or last in the sentence - but how do children know what word is averb and what word is not? The treatment of the acquisition of lexicon by the child is no moresatisfactory than the discussion of the growth of lexicon as part of the evolutionary process.Childrens acquisition of lexicon, of the names for things and actions, can, he says, only be theresult of rote-learning of the arbitrary relation between a unitary pattern of speech-sounds (theword) and a discriminable object or action. But children do not learn new words by rotememory; rote memory would mean that their mothers tell them ten times that that creature is adog; learning words by children is not like learning the multiplication table, learning telephonenumbers, learning the Kings and Queens of England or learning the catechism (for none ofwhich children show any special ability). Children learn new words incredibly rapidly in a waywhich adults cannot match. Some other explanation than rote learning is required to account forthe acquisition of lexicon by children (and there are similar problems about the acquisition of anever-growing lexicon by primitive adults in the gradualistic evolutionary scenario). Pinker notesthat word boundaries do not physically exist (in the instrumental record of utterances) but arefound by children; he rightly regards this as remarkable but attempts no explanation how it ispossible. There is parallel problem of the absence of sharp concept boundaries to which wordsare to be related, the gavagai problem discussed by Quine (Quine 1960) which Pinker attemptsto deal with. Pinker sees no real alternative to explain the rapid acquisition of words by childrento the idea the human mind is designed to find objects and label them; there is a pre- establishedharmony between the mind of the child and the texture of reality (157); the child somehow hasthe concepts available before experience with language and is basically learning labels for them.What exactly does this mean? How can the pre-existing harmony exist between concepts whichvary between physical and cultural environments and words which vary between the manydifferent languages? Some explanation is needed but pre-existing harmony, pre-existingconceptual structure, is not a clear or persuasive or testable suggestion.
  • 5. Summing upPinkers The Language Instinct does not offer a satisfactory account of language evolution.Piattelli-Palmarini (1994: 339) says that Pinkers account (developed with Paul Bloom) is thebest, yet still unconvincing, adaptationist reconstruction. It aspires to give an account of theevolution of language but is marred by its concentration on the Chomskyan account of the natureof language, an account constructed largely on the basis of the English language which ignoresor downplays the lexical and syntactic complexities of other languages. There is much little-examined speculation, about the time when the first rudiments of language might have emerged,about the manner in which children can acquire lexicon, about the anthropological basis forimproved language capacity, about the role of genetic mutation in bringing about changes inlanguage structures, about the possibility of survival benefit for the individual flowing frommutations affecting language competence and performance. The principal error is the failure totreat adequately the social character of language, as a possession of the group, of the speechcommunity, and not simply of the individual. Language development and change as increasingthe inclusive fitness, that is serving the long-term reproductive success of the individual, issimply not a plausible proposition, prehistorically or historically. The other major error isconcentration on the evolution of syntax, grammar (in a narrow Chomskyan sense or in abroader more traditional sense) and treating superficially the vital role of the development oflexicon, both as a representation of the perceived world and as an instrument for syntacticmanipulation of utterances through function words, inflections etc. The final and perhaps mostimportant error is a mistaken view of natural selection as limited to gradualistic change in acomplex structure serving a specified function; natural selection also operates throughserendipitous transfer of complexity developed for one function to a new function, typically themove from swim-bladder to lung, from webbed foot to wing, from gill to structures of the earand so on. The root problem with Pinkers presentation is the imprecise, metaphorical orrhetorical use of terms: organ, instinct, natural selection.6. Another direction?In this paper I have presented a summary account of Chomskys approach to language which isthe foundation for Pinkers treatment of language evolution in The Language Instinct . Next Ihave brought together, in his own words, the main points from Pinkers exposition and proposedcriticisms both of the general approach and of a number of specific points. I have mentionedonly very briefly the identification of language as the fifth major transition in evolution in therecent book of Maynard Smith and Szathmary. I have also referred to Givons dismissal of theentire Chomskyan position and to the characterisation by Piattelli-Palmarini (a convincedChomskyan) of Pinker and Blooms adaptationist account as the best so far but stillunacceptable. If both the Chomskyan approach to language and the gradualistic account oflanguage evolution are rejected, what alternatives are there? Any theoretical approach tolanguage has to go wider than phrase structure and cope with the elaborated systems of grammarand lexicon found in many world languages.Is there then nothing of value to be extracted from The Language Instinct or from the largelyderivative account of language evolution given by Maynard Smith and Szathmary? There maybe something of value when they consider how language might be represented in the brain. Heresome of Pinkers incidental remarks, and suggestions by Chomsky and his other followers, mayoffer clues to a more plausible approach to the evolution of language:Chomsky: It has also been suggested that the properties of language derive in some fundamentalway from properties of the visual system (Grewendorf 1994: 391) These skills may well havearisen as a concomitant of structural properties of the brain developed for other reasons (quotedby Pinker 1994: 362). Organs develop to serve one purpose and, when they have reached acertain form in the evolutionary process, became available for different purposes, at which point
  • the processes of natural selection may refine them further for those purposes. (Chomsky 1988:167)Pinker: Language could have arisen, and probably did arise, from a revamping of primate braincircuits that originally had no role in vocal communication); it is the precise wiring of the brainsmicrocircuitry that makes language happen; brains can be rewired only if the genes that controltheir wiring have changed. The ancestral brain could have been rewired only if the new circuitshad some effect on perception and behavior (350, 364).Maynard Smith and Szathmary : there is not only a formal similarity between the construction ofsentences and the performance of manual tasks, but there may be a common physiological basisfor the two abilities; one could suppose that language is a spandrel, that is, an unselected by-product of design for some other purpose; there is a formal similarity between action grammarand protolanguage. (Maynard Smith and Szathmary 1995: Chapter 17)Bickerton: True language had to wait on a change in neural organisation that caused us to slotmeaningful symbols into formal structures and to do so quite automatically; the capacity toconstruct sentences could in principle have derived from some previously established function,unlikely, however, unless there already existed some structure and/or function preadapted forsyntax, so that syntax simply utilised existing neural structures. (Bickerton 1990: 130-131)The idea that language may have been modelled on or directly derived from pre-existing brainsystems has been explored by a number of writers. The possibilities include modelling on tooluse (Greenfield and others), modelling on the visual system (Givon), modelling on throwingaction (Calvin), modelling on motor control (Studdert-Kennedy, Lieberman, Allott). The earliestsuggestion on these lines was by Karl Lashley (1951) who discussed the generality of theproblem of syntax and drew attention to the parallels between the syntax of language and thesyntax of action; there has since been considerable discussion of the grammar of action and ofthe grammar of vision Richard Gregory (1976). It is not possible in this paper to present thesealternatives at any length but the following paragraphs briefly describe them.Greenfields 1991 paper "Language, tools and brain: The ontogeny and phylogeny ofhierarchically organized sequential behavior" postulated an evolutionary homologue of theneural substrate for language production and manual action which provided a foundation for theevolution of language before the divergence of the hominids and the great apes. The role oftoolmaking as a precursor for or as coevolving with language has been extensively discussed.Perhaps it should be treated as the first approach to investigating the relation between languageand the cerebral motor control system.Studdert-Kennedy suggested that linguistic structure may emerge from, and may even be viewedas, a special case of motoric structure, the structure of action. For language, the goal is to deriveits properties from other, presumably prior, properties of the human organism and its naturalenvironment; we should try to specify the perceptual and motor capacities out of which languagehas evolved; evidence from brain stimulation (notably the work of Kimura, Ojemann andMateer) almost forced the hypothesis that the primary specialisation of the left hemisphere ismotoric rather than perceptual; language would be drawn to the left hemisphere because the lefthemisphere already possessed the neural circuitry for control of the fingers, wrists and arms,precisely the type of circuitry needed for control of the larynx, tongue, velum, lips and of thebilaterally innervated vocal apparatus (1983: 5, 329).Ojemann and Mateer (1979, 1991) identified common cortical sites for sequencing motoractivity and speech; language arises at least in part in brain areas that originally had apredominantly motor function; the development of language seems to have incorporated brainmechanisms originally developed for motor learning.
  • Givon in his 1994 paper for the Berkeley meeting of the Language Origins Society took thesystem of visual perception as the basis on which language emerged in a process of coevolution;in this the evolution of language was linked directly to the development of the visual system. Hediscussed the correspondences between visual and linguistic information and suggested thatlanguage processing piggybacked on visual processing; in evolution there had been an early co-existence of auditory-vocal and visual-gestural codes; the rise of visual-gestural coding provideda neuro-cognitive preadaptation for a shift to audio-oral coding because of the adaptiveadvantages it offered, freeing the hand and body for other activities, transcending the immediatevisual field. He developed these ideas in the light of recent evidence from PET scans andotherwise of brain localisation of particular aspects of language processing in relation to visualand auditory brain organization.Lieberman (1984, 1991) has presented a motor theory of the origin of syntax. According to this,the evolution of speech and language follows from Darwinian processes; organs that wereoriginally designed to facilitate breathing air and swallowing food and water were adapted toproduce human speech. The development of language was an instance of the mechanisms ofpreadaptation which besides examples such as swim-bladders and lungs, produced thesometimes surprising preadaptive bases of various specialized organs, for example, milk glandsfrom sweat glands, the bones of the mammalian middle ear from the joint of the lower jaw. Theinitial stage in the evolution of the neural bases of human language appears to have involvedlateralized mechanisms for manual motor control, facilitating precise one-handed manual tasks.Brain mechanisms that allow the production of the extremely precise complex muscularmanoeuvres of speech, the most difficult motor control task that humans perform, may haveprovided the preadaptive basis for rule-governed syntax which may reflect a generalisation ofthe automatic schema first evolved in animals for motor control in tasks like respiration andwalking. A change in brain organization that allowed voluntary control of vocalization is theminimum condition for vocal communication.Calvin (1989) has argued the case for an even more specific preadaptation for the neuralmachinery underlying language in the neural circuitry required for planning sequential hand-movements such as hammering and throwing. Since hand-arm sequencing circuitry in the brainhas a strong spatial overlap with where language circuitry is located in the left brain, perhaps thesame massively-serial architecture can do double-duty for language and planning ahead. Thewell-formed sentence and the reliable plan of action have some strong analogies to more familiardarwinian successes, a matter of what Charles Darwin called conversion of one function toanother or metamorphosis of function. To describe the original function from which theconversion of function was made, the better word is exaptation because of the preconceivedconnotations of preadaptation. A given piece of anatomy can have more than one function. Theconversion of function, Calvin argues, is an excellent candidate for how beyond-the-apeslanguage abilities originated. Hominid-to-human language is a free secondary use of neuralsequencing machinery that was primarily shaped by the food-acquisition uses of ballisticmovement skills.The motor theory of language evolution and function proposes as a universal principle that thestructures of language (phonological, lexical and syntactic)were derived from and modelled onthe pre-existing complex neural systems which had evolved for motor control, the control ofbodily activity. Motor control at the neural level requires pre-set elementary units of actionwhich can be integrated into more extended patterns of action - neural motor programs. These inturn have to be linked to and integrated with one another by syntactic neural processes andstructures. On this theory, given that speech is also essentially a motor activity, language madeuse of the elementary pre-set units of motor action to produce the equivalent phonological units(phonemic categories); the neural programs for individual words were constructed from theelementary units in the same way as motor programs for bodily action are formed from them (inboth cases a neural program is formed in direct relation to the perceived structure of the external
  • world); the syntactic processes and structures of language proper were modelled on thesyntactic rules of motor control.Chomsky, Pinker and Bloom, Piattelli-Palmariniargue against preadaptation on the basis of thevisual or motor systems on grounds which are directly related to their perhaps idiosyncraticformal analysis of language, with its emphasis on syntax. So Piattelli-Palmarini (in his 1994paper which rejected Piagets view that language was derived from or related to motor schemata)said that the form of linguistic principles is very specific e.g. c-command, X-bar, PRO,projection of a lexical head, trace of a noun-phrase etc. and went on to say that there is no hope,not even the dimmest one, of translating these entities, these principles, and these constructs intogeneric notions that apply to language as a particular case; nothing in motor control evenremotely resembles these kinds of notions; concrete linguistic examples (drawn fromChomskyan theory) make it vastly implausible that syntactic rules could be accounted for interms of sensorimotor schemata (Piattelli-Palmarini 1994: 324). Chomsky in Language andProblems of Knowledge said the visual system is unlike the language faculty in many crucialways; though there are some similarities in the way that the problems can be addressed, inrelation to vision and language, the visual faculty does not include the principles of bindingtheory, case theory, structure dependence, and so on. The two systems operate in quite differentways (Chomsky 1988: 159, 161).7. ConclusionPinker, Chomsky and Piattelli-Palmarini, in rejecting a preadaptive or exaptational basis for theevolution of language in the visual or motor systems of the brain because it is impossible to seehow such as a basis could accommodate the formalisms of transformational-generativegrammar, government and binding, or principles and parameters, ignore the unwelcomepossibility that there is something fundamentally wrong with the linguistic theories, not with theDarwinian process by which there can be conversion of function from an already existingcomplex neural system for perception or action to serve as the basis for speech and languagefunction. Chomsky is left in the awkward position of being unable to conceive of a Darwinianorigin for language even though he asserts that it must have a biological basis; this leads Pinkerto propose a gradualistic account of language evolution as the product of a series of minimalgenetic and language changes, which is implausible in accounting for the step-by-step accretionof the elements required for Chomskyan phrase-structure theory, and even less plausible toaccount for the development of other complex grammatical and lexical features of worldlanguages. The way out of the impasse is to see the evolution of language as a system foundedon, reflecting and expressing the pre-existing complexities of the perceptual and motor systemsof the brain.The Language InstinctThe Language Instinct is a 1994 book by Steven Pinker. Written for a general audience, itargues that humans are born with an innate capacity for language. It deals sympatheticallywith Noam Chomskys claim that all human language shows evidence of a universal grammar,but dissents from Chomskys skepticism that evolutionary theory can explain the humanlanguage instinct.ThesisPinker sets out to disabuse the reader of a number of common ideas about language, e.g. thatchildren must be taught to use it, that most peoples grammar is poor, that the quality of languageis steadily declining, that language has a heavy influence on a persons possible range ofthoughts (the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis), and that nonhuman animals have been taught language(see Great Ape language). Each of these claims, he argues, is false. Instead, Pinker sees languageas an ability unique to humans, produced byevolution to solve the specific problem of
  • communication among social hunter-gatherers. He compares language to other speciesspecialized adaptations such as spiders web-weaving or beavers dam-building behavior, callingall three "instincts".By calling language an instinct, Pinker means that it is not a human invention in the sensethat metalworking and even writing are. While only some human cultures possessthese technologies, all cultures possess language. As further evidence for the universality oflanguage, Pinker notes that children spontaneously invent a consistent grammatical speech(a creole) even if they grow up among a mixed-culture population speaking an informaltrade pidgin with no consistent rules. Deaf babies "babble" with their hands as others normallydo with voice, and spontaneously invent sign languages with true grammar rather than a crude"me Tarzan, you Jane" pointing system. Language (speech) also develops in the absence offormal instruction or active attempts by parents to correct childrens grammar. These signssuggest that rather than being a human invention, language is an innate human ability. Pinkeralso distinguishes language from humans general reasoning ability, emphasizing that it is notsimply a mark of advanced intelligence but rather a specialized "mental module". Hedistinguishes the linguists notion of grammar, such as the placement of adjectives, from formalrules such as those in the American English writing style guide. He argues that because ruleslike "a preposition is not a proper word to end a sentence with" must be explicitly taught, theyare irrelevant to actual communication and should be ignored.Pinker attempts to trace the outlines of the language instinct by citing his own studies oflanguage acquisition in children, and the works of many other linguists and psychologists inmultiple fields, as well as numerous examples from popular culture. He notes, for instance, thatspecific types of brain damage cause specific impairments of language such as Brocasaphasia or Wernickes aphasia, that specific types of grammatical construction are especiallyhard to understand, and that there seems to be a critical period in childhood for languagedevelopment just as there is a critical period for vision development in cats. Much of the bookrefers to Chomskys concept of a universal grammar, a meta-grammar into which all humanlanguages fit. Pinker explains that a universal grammar represents specific structures in thehuman brain that recognize the general rules of other humans speech, such as whether the locallanguage places adjectives before or after nouns, and begin a specialized and very rapid learningprocess not explainable as reasoning from first principles or pure logic. This learning machineryexists only during a specific critical period of childhood and is then disassembled for thrift,freeing resources in an energy-hungry brain.[edit]CriticismPinkers assumptions about the innateness of language have been challenged; opponents claimthat "either the logic is fallacious, or the factual data are incorrect (or, sometimes, both)". [1]The statement that deaf babies "spontaneously invent sign languages with complex grammar" isactually only true in groups of deaf children (deaf communities) while a lone deaf child in avillage where everyone else can hear never invents more than simple gestures.[2][3] This actuallysupports a view of language as a social adaptation evolutionary kludge.Richard Webster writes that The Language Instinct argues cogently that the human capacity forlanguage is part of our genetic endowment associated with the evolution through naturalselection of specialised neural networks within the brain, and that its attack on the StandardSocial Science Model of human nature is effective: "All but the most sceptical readers of hisbook are likely to be persuaded that the capacity for language has, at least in some respects, beengenetically programmed into the human brain throughout the many millennia of the evolution ofour species. All but the most recalcitrant will concede that Pinkers broadside against theStandard Social Science Model has some justification. For it would seem almost beyondquestion that twentieth-century social scientists have, for ideological or rationalistic motives,
  • tended to underestimate grossly the extent to which human nature is shaped and constrained bygenetic factors." However, Webster finds Pinkers speculation about other specialized neuralnetworks that may have evolved within the human brain, such as "intuitive mechanics" and"intuitive biology", to be questionable, and believes that there is a danger that they will betreated by others as science. Webster believes that such speculations "play into the hands ofthose who advocate the kind of extreme genetic determinism whose excesses Pinker himselfgenerally manages to avoid."[4] Chomsky"...People would like to think that theres somebody up there who knows what hes doing. Sincewe dont participate, we dont control and we dont even think about questions of vitalimportance. We hope somebody is paying attention who has some competence. Lets hope theship has a captain, in other words, since were not taking part in whats going on...It is an important feature of the igeological system to impose on people the feeling that theyreally are incompetent to deal with these complex and important issues: theyd better leave it tothe captain. One device is to develop a star system, an array of figures who are media creationsor creations of the academic propaganda establishment, whose deep insights we are supposed toadmire and to whom we must happily and confidently assign the right to control our lives and tocontrol international affairs...."- Noam ChomskyChomsky on Language AcquisitionAccording to Noam Chomsky, the mechanism of language acquisition formulates from innateprocesses. This theory is evidenced by children who live in the same linguistic communitywithout a plethora of different experiences who arrive at comparable grammars. Chomsky thusproposes that "all children share the same internal contraints which characterize narrowly thegrammar they are going to construct." (Chomsky, 1977, p.98) Since we live in a biologicalworld, "there is no reason for supposing the mental world to be an exception." (Chomsky, 1977,p.94) And he believes that there is a critical age for learningn a language as is true for the overalldevelopment of the human body.Chomskys mechanism of language acquisition also links structural linguistics to empiricistthought: "These principles [of structuralism and empiricism] determine the type of grammarsthat are available in principles. They are associated with an evaluation procedure which, givenpossible grammars, selects the best one. The evaluation procedure is also part of the biologicalgiven. The acquisition of language thus is a process of selection of the best grammar compatiblewith the available data. If the principles can be made sufficiently restrictive, there will also be akind of discovery procedure. " (Chomsky, 1977, p.117)Chomsky on Generative GrammarChomskys beliefs about generative grammar are the factors which help differentiate his viewsfrom the structuralist theory; he believes that generative grammar must "render explicit theimplicit knowledge of the speaker." (Chomsky, 1977, p.103) His model of generative grammarbegins with an axiom and a set of well-defined rules to generate the desired word sequences.The following is an example of how Chomsky proposes individuals spontaneously comprehendthat certain combinations of three words make sense whilst others do not:One goal of Chomskys work with linguistics is to create an explanatory theory of generativegrammar. When we are able to provide a deductive chain of reasoning that does not uphold thegeneral principles of thought, facts termed "boundary conditions" arise and serve as a potentialexplanation for the phenomena associated with an explanatory theory. The rules of the English
  • auxiliary system serve as a good example to demonstrate this principlechomsky on Semantics"[T]he study of meaning and reference and of the use of language should be excluded from thefield of linguistics. . . . [G]iven a lingustic theory, the concepts of grammer are constructed (so itseems) on the basis of primitive notions that are not semantic (where the grammar contains thephonology and syntax), but that the linguistic theory itself must be chosen so as to provide thebest possible explanation of semantic phenomena, as well as others." (Chomsky, 1977, p.139)"It seems that other cognitive systems -- in particular, our system of beliefs concerning things inthe world and their behavior -- playan essential part in our judments of meaning and reference,in an extremely intricate manner, and it is not at all clear that much will remain if we try toseparate the purely linguistic components of what in informal usage or even in technicaldiscussion we call the meaning of lingustic expression. " (Chomsky, 1977, p.142)"He showed that surface structure played a much more important role in semantic interpretationthat had been supposed; if so, then the Standard hypothesis, according to which it was the deepstructure that completely determined this interpretation, is false." (Chomsky, 1977, p.151)Chomsky on Behaviorism"Whatever behaviorism may have served in the past, it has become nothing more than a set ofarbitrary restrictions on legitimate theory construction . . . the kind of intellectual shackles thatphysical scientists would surely not tolerate and that condemns any intellectual pursuit toinsignificance." (Bjork, 1993, p.204) Noam Chomsky is known as one of the leading authoritiespertaining to language and languagechomskyNoam Chomsky believes that children are born with an inherited ability to learn any humanlanguage. He claims that certain linguistic structures which children use so accurately must bealready imprinted on the child‘s mind. Chomsky believes that every child has a ‗languageacquisition device‘ or LAD which encodes the major principles of a language and itsgrammatical structures into the child‘s brain. Children have then only to learn new vocabularyand apply the syntactic structures from the LAD to form sentences. Chomsky points out that achild could not possibly learn a language through imitation alone because the language spokenaround them is highly irregular – adult‘s speech is often broken up and even sometimesungrammatical. Chomsky‘s theory applies to all languages as they all contain nouns, verbs,consonants and vowels and children appear to be ‗hard-wired‘ to acquire the grammar. Everylanguage is extremely complex, often with subtle distinctions which even native speakers areunaware of. However, all children, regardless of their intellectual ability, become fluent in theirnative language within five or six years.Evidence to support Chomsky‘s theory Children learning to speak never make grammatical errors such as getting their subjects, verbs and objects in the wrong order. If an adult deliberately said a grammatically incorrect sentence, the child would notice. Children often say things that are ungrammatical such as ‗mama ball‘, which they cannot have learnt passively.
  • Mistakes such as ‗I drawed‘ instead of ‗I drew‘ show they are not learning through imitation alone. Chomsky used the sentence ‗colourless green ideas sleep furiously‘, which is grammatical although it doesn‘t make sense, to prove his theory: he said it shows that sentences can be grammatical without having any meaning, that we can tell the difference between a grammatical and an ungrammatical sentence without ever having heard the sentence before, and that we can produce and understand brand new sentences that no one has ever said before.Evidence against Chomsky‘s theory Critics of Chomsky‘s theory say that although it is clear that children don‘t learn language through imitation alone, this does not prove that they must have an LAD – language learning could merely be through general learning and understanding abilities and interactions with other peopl