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Maciamo
25-06-03, 10:24
I've found this short explanation of language aquisition in an online encyclopedia. I haven't read any of Chomsky's works on linguistics, but i've read a few things on the net about it. His principal idea seems to be that humans are born with an innate knowledge of a universal grammar.

"While children usually learn the sounds and vocabulary of their native language through imitation, grammar is seldom taught to them explicitly; that they nonetheless rapidly acquire the ability to speak grammatically supports the theory advanced by Noam Chomsky and other proponents of transformational grammar. According to this view, children are able to learn the "superficial" grammar of a particular language because all intelligible languages are founded on a "deep structure" of grammatical rules that are universal and that correspond to an innate capacity of the human brain."

He also said that if we say for instance "what drawer is that book in ?", we knew intuitively that we couldn't say "what in ist that drawer" or such wrong structures.

I totally disagree with that. He visibly hasn't leanend Japanese to affirm that all languages have the same basic structure, though we could find a common basis to all Latin and Germanic languages or even Chinese. But once again, why in Gaelic would people say "Go I bank" while Japanese structure is "I bank to go" and in English "I go to the bank", which are 3 completely different syntaxes.

Does anybody know Chomsky's idea in linguistics better than me and could give some me explanations on this ?

Elizabeth
25-06-03, 14:01
Originally posted by Maciamo
[B]"While children usually learn the sounds and vocabulary of their native language through imitation, grammar is seldom taught to them explicitly; that they nonetheless rapidly acquire the ability to speak grammatically supports the theory advanced by Noam Chomsky and other proponents of transformational grammar. According to this view, children are able to learn the gsuperficialh grammar of a particular language because all intelligible languages are founded on a gdeep structureh of grammatical rules that are universal and that correspond to an innate capacity of the human brain."
Fascinating ideas, these, aren't they? "Universal grammar" is somewhat of a misnomer, though, I agree.
He is (or was, actually, these sound more like his ideas from the '60's :D) basically just saying that all children are inately equipped to acquire the underlying meaning of sentences in whatever language(s) they are acquiring as well as knowledge of various "superficial" arrangements of syntax and particles that can be mapped onto a single "deep" meaning.

In other words, kids have to learn to disregard to some extent the surface distinctions between sentences like:
"What drawer is that book in" and "What drawer might that book be in" or "which drawer is that book in"

and learn the importance of distinctions such as "That drawer might be in what book" or "What dresser might that book be in" etc.

To use a classic example, the two sentences below appear to have the same surface structure (proper noun, verb, adj, and infinitive), but cannot be acceptably "transformed" in the same way -- thus revealing varient deep structures.

1.) John is easy to please.
2). John is eager to please.

1.) can be transformed into the passive (It is easy to please John) and 2). cannot (It is eager to please John). The distinction being that "easy to please" involves something being done to John and "eager to please" something John does or is.

At the time it was a pretty radical idea that there were innate structures involved in these processes. People before had said essentially that language acquisition was a matter of trial and error or kids being "rewarded" for correct production. :note:

halx
25-06-03, 14:15
Originally posted by Maciamo
I totally disagree with that. He visibly hasn't leanend Japanese to affirm that all languages have the same basic structure, ...

Interestingly there was a recent publication in Nature Neuroscience (didn't read it myself, got the reference from the ORF web page http://science.orf.at/, sorry German only) where researchers found a region in the brain supporting Chomsky's theory. Students have been taught Italian and Japanese(!) with regular grammar and non-sensical grammar. This brain region was strongly active in the case of regular syntax but much more weakly active in the latter case. Don't ask me if that is a proof for anything...

halx
25-06-03, 14:25
Originally posted by Maciamo
I've found this short explanation of language aquisition in an online encyclopedia. I haven't read any of Chomsky's works on linguistics, but i've read a few things on the net about it. His principal idea seems to be that humans are born with an innate knowledge of a universal grammar.


This reminds me of an article in Scientific American(?) studying the evolution of pidgin and creole languages. Linguists have found that grammar is very similar although these languages devolped in different parts of the world. Interestingly children when learning their native language make mistakes which would be correct grammar in creole.

Maciamo
25-06-03, 15:00
Originally posted by Elizabeth
To use a classic example, the two sentences below appear to have the same surface structure (proper noun, verb, adj, and infinitive), but cannot be acceptably "transformed" in the same way -- thus revealing varient deep structures.

1.) John is easy to please.
2). John is eager to please.

1.) can be transformed into the passive (It is easy to please John) and 2). cannot (It is eager to please John). The distinction being that "easy to please" involves something being done to John and "eager to please" something John does or is.


What is true for English isn't necessarily true for other languages having a very similar structure (same word order, etc.). In French, the "to" in these sentences would be different, because they clearly don't mean the same.

More interestingly, in English one can say : "John gives Mary flowers", but in French you can't keep this structure. It must be formulated : "John gives (some) flowers to Mary", because technically in a French mind, Mary cannot be given. So, how comes English speakers understand it, but French people find it strange or incorrect. That has to do with the nature of the language itself. English and French are 50% similar in vocabulary and have so to say the same structure and very similar expressions and even idioms. As a speaker of both languages, I could very well start using the English structure in my example in French. Though I find it perfectly natural in English, it still sounds very strange in French. Why ? Both structures and grammar are in my mind ? Why aren't they compatible ? How do I know what can be translated in the other language and what can't. I've never learned about it in a book or at school. It's not innate, it's just that I've heard it so many times in either language that I know. But an English speaker starts learning French, they will mistake because they lack the experience of knowing what is natural in that language and what is not. Thus I believe that there is no universal structure that we know from birth.

Another example. In Japanese, the use of the verbs "come" (kuru) and "go" (iku) is slightly different of that of English, French, Italian or Spanish. In English when someone calls you, you can say "I am coming", but in Japanese, one must say "I am going". I used to mistake often in Japanese saying "kimasu" instead of "ikimasu". But now that I got used to it, it sounds strange when I hear other foreigners say "kimasu" instead of "ikimasu" in that case.

I think children also learn from experience and from adults telling them what is correct and what isn't. So when Comsky says "Children are able to learn the gsuperficialh grammar of a particular language because all intelligible languages are founded on a gdeep structureh of grammatical rules that are universal", I disagree.

If he means that everybody has the capacity to learn any language naturally from experience (without learning the rules at school), that would be ok, but that's not news. It is self-evident, as everybody can speak the language of the country where they were born. What's his point after all ?

What's more, if it's true that English doesn't require much study of grammar to be spoken well, that is not true of all languages, and Latin languages, especially French that is so irregular in all respects, are good examples. Eventhough they have to study all the tables of tenses and complicated accord od the adjectives, most native French speakers still mistake, because it's so irregular.

Likewise, lot's of Japanese can't make head or tail of particles "ga, wa, wo, ni..." themselves and end up dropping them. That is however a fundamental part of Japanese grammar if one wants to understand unambiguously. Japanese is a wonderful example of how confusing a language can be, with all its homonyms, and how grammar and kanji are important even for adults to understand complex conversations.

Maciamo
25-06-03, 15:02
Originally posted by halx
This reminds me of an article in Scientific American(?) studying the evolution of pidgin and creole languages. Linguists have found that grammar is very similar although these languages devolped in different parts of the world. Interestingly children when learning their native language make mistakes which would be correct grammar in creole.

Which language's creole is it ? Chinese creole ? Is there such a thing ? I thought creole was a mix of European languages(especially French, English and Spanish) with African or possibly Amerindian languages. So which creole are you talking about ? French creole, English creole, Spanish creole ?

halx
25-06-03, 16:02
Originally posted by Maciamo
Which language's creole is it ? Chinese creole ? Is there such a thing ? I thought creole was a mix of European languages(especially French, English and Spanish) with African or possibly Amerindian languages. So which creole are you talking about ? French creole, English creole, Spanish creole ?

IIRC the origin of creole is indeed a mix of European languages and native
languages (but I can imagine other combinations as well). Often natives were displaced by former colony powers to work on plantations far away from their orginal home and put together with natives of their new "home" or people from a different part of the world. Hence they were forced to speak to others on a very basic level, pidgin. The new "language" was usually dominated by the language of the colony powers. This is very similar to what we observe today when foreign workers come to our countries (a Pakistani pizza restaurant owner in Austria will usually talk in German to his north african employees) and need to communicate somehow, i.e. only single words or word combinations without a grammatical structure are used initially.

If I'm not mistaken pidgin later evolved into the creole languages blending both European languages and native languages. However, during this transformation grammar was added and the interesting point here is that regardless of the creole language (be it one of Africa or South America) similar grammatical structures evolved.

Unfortunately I lost my copy of that journal so that I have to cite from memory.

Elizabeth
25-06-03, 20:07
Originally posted by Maciamo
[B]Another example. In Japanese, the use of the verbs "come" (kuru) and "go" (iku) is slightly different of that of English, French, Italian or Spanish. In English when someone calls you, you can say "I am coming", but in Japanese, one must say "I am going". I used to mistake often in Japanese saying "kimasu" instead of "ikimasu". But now that I got used to it, it sounds strange when I hear other foreigners say "kimasu" instead of "ikimasu" in that case.]

Yes, "come" is used from a more subjective perspective in Japanese (probably the case with other aspects of the language as well), you have to actually be in a place already to "have come" or "will come" to it.

But that is just a matter of learning a particular range of usages. We don't use "kita" in the sense of "became" or "getting" in English, either, such as Dandan atatakaku natte kimashita.


I think children also learn from experience and from adults telling them what is correct and what isn't. So when Comsky says "Children are able to learn the gsuperficialh grammar of a particular language because all intelligible languages are founded on a gdeep structureh of grammatical rules that are universal", I disagree.

If he means that everybody has the capacity to learn any language naturally from experience (without learning the rules at school), that would be ok, but that's not news. It is self-evident, as everybody can speak the language of the country where they were born. What's his point after all ?
Well, the basic notion that there must be something innate or intuitive (a gift as it were) in children's ability to have largely acquired their native langauge before the age of 5 has been floating around since the Egyptians, Decartes, Darwin, etc. Chomsky just formulated the mental and biological circuitry underlying it all and gave scientific shape to the idea that humans are born with an inate genetic endowment which will allow them to learn the universal principles governing all languages. Since the milieu among mid-Century Anglo-American behaviorist psychologists he set out to counter was that the acquisition of language was exclusively a matter of cultural imitation, that all it takes is memorizing which words follow which in a kind of stimulus-response word chain.

For sure there are hundreds of variations in sequences of sounds, grammatical relationships, use of inflections, prepositions for indicating these etc across the thousands of languages. Chomsky's "universal grammar" underlying all "particular grammars" simply refers to the basic elements common to all language and speech -- such as all languages have basic sounds that make up syllables, all have nouns and verbs that combine into phrases, there is always a relationship between the subject and object of an action, all make some use of temporality, modifiers, etc. So what children are acquiring is more or less the overarching blueprint or plan for the conventions of syntax for any particular language. In English, it would be a matter of deducing patterned rules such as:
1.) The first noun/verb in a noun/verb phrase ("the cat in the tree from up the street" as a noun phrase for instance) takes on the role of "head" and indicates what the phrase will be about (a cat). This can in turn be followed by an embedded prepositional phrase indicating the subject role the noun/verb is playing (in the tree) which may then be followed by an optional modifiers (from up the street).
In the same way, prepositional and adjectival phrases have a "head" which tells what the phrase will be about, followed by any adjectives or adverb modifiers followed by the subject and any optional modifiying phrase (out of the hotel, in the bar, afraid of the wolf, etc).

Another rule is evident from the above examples "John is easy to please" and "John is eager to please" above. If a sentence can be turned into a passive, what appeared to be the subject upon surface inspection is actually the object.

In other words, the components and elements of these rules will differ according the language, but concept of such patterned arrangement across various speech patterns exists in all languages, and the ability to discern and use them appropriately is an innate capability.


What's more, if it's true that English doesn't require much study of grammar to be spoken well, that is not true of all languages, and Latin languages, especially French that is so irregular in all respects, are good examples. Eventhough they have to study all the tables of tenses and complicated accord od the adjectives, most native French speakers still mistake, because it's so irregular.
Yes, English speakers also confuse two of the three intransative/transative irregulars all the time as well: lie/lay, and rise/raise. Sit/set is easier since it is more common, but again children will pick these distinctions up from exposure, it isn't something that needs to be taught per se or learned in school. On the other hand, something like "ain't" is grammatical for "isn't" -- it just isn't standard usage. Obviously even native speakers with very poor grammar aren't going to generate a Japanese-style sentence like "As for here, that girl ain't" in violation of the natural English ordering for noun-verb placement such as discussed above.

OK--hope that was helpful. More later. :D

Maciamo
26-06-03, 03:15
Yes, "come" is used from a more subjective perspective in Japanese (probably the case with other aspects of the language as well), you have to actually be in a place already to "have come" or "will come" to it.

But that is just a matter of learning a particular range of usages. We don't use "kita" in the sense of "became" or "getting" in English, either, such as Dandan atatakaku natte kimashita.

It seems to me that all Latin and Germanic languages have the same use of "go" and "come" as English, except that in (some ?) Latin languages "come" can be used more or less like in Japanese. In French "je viens de manger" is almost the same like "tabete kita" in Japanese.

But we use "go" in English and French (not other European languages I know) to express the intention : "I am going to buy a book" or in French "Je vais acheter un livre". So why does French have both uses of "go" and "come", but English and Japanese only have one ? It probably has nothing to do with family of languages, as it's not the same for all Latin or Germanic languages.

That's interesting to analyse, but that goes rather against the idea of a basic universal grammar. Nobody in English would understand that "I('ve) come to eat" means "I've just eaten".

Maciamo
26-06-03, 03:41
@innate abilities

Are you saying that there are 2 groups of linguists, one that think that humans are all able to learn any languages thanks to some innate grammatical knowledge, and the other that thinks everything is just a matter of memorising words and structures.

I believe both have very limited conceptions of how language is actually learnt. There are no innate ideas or grammar, but of course, every human, as part of the same species, has the ability to learn any language (except mentally disabled), and this is not always done by conscious learning, but by unconscious copying of our environment. So chidlren will speak with their parents or educators' accent, because they copy it. More interestingly, humans have the ability to distinguish which language, accent and range of vocabulary to use with other people, even just after meeting them. For instance, chidlren whose mother has always spoken Japanese and whose father has always spoken English to them, will know instinctively that they should speak Japanese to their mother and English to their father (and probably won't mistake). That is an obvious example. However, when I meet new people in Japan, some speak only Japanese, other a bit of English and sometimes speak English very well. Because the latter will usually use English with me, I know instinctively if I should address them in Japanese, basic, slow English or just speak normally English, depending on their abilities. I can usually adapt my speech after a few minutes I've met a new person. I kind of know which words this or that person will understand and which they won't, but I don't have to think consciously about it. It comes naturally. It doesn't require any special training. But it is NOT innate, just instinctive, which I suspect these linguists don't understand. It is based on my knowledge and experience, but the thinking process in unconscious. "Innate" means that the knowledge exist at birth and doesn't require more learning or experience.

Elizabeth
27-06-03, 01:37
Originally posted by Maciamo
[B]@innate abilities

Are you saying that there are 2 groups of linguists, one that think that humans are all able to learn any languages thanks to some innate grammatical knowledge, and the other that thinks everything is just a matter of memorising words and structures.

Maciamo-san, my background is actually in mainstream psychology, not linguistics, but you are probably also aware from your readings on the internet that Chomsky is widely credited with almost singlehandedly debunking the 'memorisation' idea decades ago. Which was hardly credible to begin with. His main point of contention was that kids with little or no feedback can still acquire language from their natural context but without being spoken to directly. There are even cases of immigrant children making up their own fairly complex creole and deaf kids not exposed to sign language their own gestural systems, all of which have the structural rules and organization of existing languages. Not to mention most kids interacting normally generally don't receive enough negative evidence or grammatical corrections to constrain their output.

Which leads naturally to how kids deduce which grammar, out of the thousands of possible languages, they should be using? It seems undeniable that there have got to be some form of underlying, hardwired biological constraints or 'perameters' set in place already to choose from. For instance, let's say the default for one perameter is for fixed-word order sentences such as English. You should see children across languages, even in free word-order languages, such as Russian and Warpali, all beginning with a restricted output set and gradually expanding as they gain knowledge of the scope of permissible orders. Which is what the evidence has shown to date.

Another piece of evidence for the innate or instintive approach are those particularly horrifying cases of kids growing up ferel (Victor, the Wild Boy of Averyon) or with extremely limited human contact (Genie) who may have normal intelligence but aren't able to acquire a full range of language skills (or hardly any, in these cases) without that crucial exposure (pre-pubescent) when their cerebral functioning is most pliable and open to new information.


ideas or grammar, but of course, every human, as part of the same species, has the ability to learn any language (except mentally disabled), and this is not always done by conscious learning, but by unconscious copying of our environment.
However, when I meet new people in Japan, some speak only Japanese, other a bit of English and sometimes speak English very well. Because the latter will usually use English with me, I know instinctively if I should address them in Japanese, basic, slow English or just speak normally English, depending on their abilities. I can usually adapt my speech after a few minutes I've met a new person. I kind of know which words this or that person will understand and which they won't, but I don't have to think consciously about it. It comes naturally. It doesn't require any special training. But it is NOT innate, just instinctive, which I suspect these linguists don't understand. It is based on my knowledge and experience, but the thinking process in unconscious. "Innate" means that the knowledge exist at birth and doesn't require more learning or experience.]
Well, I suspect we are probably talking about two different definitions of "instinctive" here. One meaning refers primarily to an innate (inborn, inherent, inbred) capability, apptitude, intuition, or having a knack for something. And then there is the idea of "an innate aspect of behavior that is unlearned, complex and normally adaptive," according to my dictionary at least.

With language acquisition there is clearly is an innate predisposition, in the sense of inborn capacity, for speech and vocalization in humans that was probably as far back as the Neanderthals and evolved into a recognizably adult vocal tract (the layrnx in the pharynx as opposed to the mouth) somewhere around 125,000 years ago while human patterns of right-handedness and the left-cerebral hemisphere representation of language go back as far as 2-3 millions years. It isn't even controversial that brain mechanisms underlie the biological foundations of language and provide the hardware for organizing linguistic imput. A prepackaged, ready-to-go language system as it were.
:cool:

Maciamo
27-06-03, 03:54
and deaf kids not exposed to sign language their own gestural systems, all of which have the structural rules and organization of existing languages.


That's really interesting. I'd like to know how old were the kids. If they were over (about) 8 years old, it could be argued that they've learnt through reading. But I'm pretty certain that completely deaf children have much less vocabulary and express themselves (writing) much more conventionally (a bit like a foreign language student) than their peers at the same age. Do you have any data on this ?


Which leads naturally to how kids deduce which grammar, out of the thousands of possible languages, they should be using? It seems undeniable that there have got to be some form of underlying, hardwired biological constraints or 'perameters' set in place already to choose from. For instance, let's say the default for one perameter is for fixed-word order sentences such as English.

I still have doubts about it, in particular because all brains are different, and the genetic dispositions are especially different between ethnic groups. Would you think a Japanese has better "innate" dispositions to learn Japanese than English. Do you think a person of Germanic blood could learn Germanic languages more easily than another European, which could themselves learn them more easily than non Europeans ?
To answer this question, we need to study cases of adopted children (adopted right at birth if possible) and raised in a different ethnic and linguistic group, then analyse brain shapes and assess how different the "alien" and local ethnic group are.

In migrant countries like the US, it would be easy to make such comparisons, but the socio-economic factors are also important. Ideally, children of different ethinc group should be raised together in the same family for comparison. But once more, there are other factors, such as individual intelligence, which are already set at birth (depending on the mother's health and nutrition, genetic factors, etc.).

There are surely be researches made on this, but I don't have knowledge of them.

Maciamo
27-06-03, 04:05
Another piece of evidence for the innate or instintive approach are those particularly horrifying cases of kids growing up ferel (Victor, the Wild Boy of Averyon) or with extremely limited human contact (Genie) who may have normal intelligence but aren't able to acquire a full range of language skills (or hardly any, in these cases) without that crucial exposure (pre-pubescent) when their cerebral functioning is most pliable and open to new information.

Isn't it a counter-argument ? If they had innate grammatical capabilities, they wouldn't need to acquire them in their early childhood. That seems justly to confirm my idea that language need to be learnt (even unconsciously) but human contacts. I don't see the see for the baby being talking to directly. I've never needed to be talked to to pick up a foreign language when I was in that country.
I've read that babies already learn in the womb during the last months of pregnancy, and that it is therefore good to talk or listen to (classical ?) music to form their brain. It is said that a child's musical likings depends on what music their mother listened in late pregnancy. It seemed to be true for me.

However, "innate" means for me that it is genetic and does not depend on synaptic connections, which rely on experience (the brain is almost free of connection between neurons at birth).

Maciamo
27-06-03, 05:04
One more thing. Don't you think (and I hope Chomsky'd be here too) that all process of learning are the same. Let's take "moral"; some people believe that there is such a thing as an innate universal moral in all human beings. That's a good comparison with underlying grammatical structures. However, researches have shown that there isn't any universal moral. What's more, we are genetically the same as 100.000 years ago, and since then human have had all kinds of imaginable behaviours, especially since the beginning of civilisations 5000 years ago. There has been slaves, human sacrifices, torture, plots, treasons, incests and more. All these are part of human nature. Moral, like language, is a human invention and is highly cultural. Children aren't born with values, nor are they born with elements of language (except maybe those already acquired in the womb, as foetuses can hear).

Children don't need to be explicitely taught all moral rules. They can understand them by themselves, intuitively (i.e through unconscious reasoning and learning), but it isn't from an innate knowledge, as this doesn't exist.

I think we are just arguing about the philosophical issue of innate ideas (rationalism) vs acquired ones (empiricism (http://www.encyclopedia.com/html/e1/empirici.asp) ) . Some philosophers (Descartes...) believe that the mind can create entirely new ideas unrelated to experience, while others (Locke, Hume...) think everything is based on experience. I believe in the latter, while you and Chomsky are followers of the former conception.

senseiman
27-06-03, 15:58
I read one of Chomsky's speeches that he gave on linguistics in India a few years ago and it was quite interesting.

From what I understand he was saying, the human brain has a grammar organ that allows children to aquire language at an early age naturally, without actively studying it. This organ will die if it isn't used and will simply wear out by the age of 8 or 9. It is possible to learn a language after that age, but it will be as an adjunct of your mother language.

One case he cited was that of a 12 year old girl who had been found by police locked in the attic of her house. Her father was a psychotic who had kept her there since the age of 2 without any human contact during that whole time. She couldn't speak at all. Social workers spent years trying to teach her English, but completely failed. They could teach her vocabulary, but it was impossible for her to acquire even simple grammatical skills. He hypothesized that this was the result of her grammar organ ceasing to function due to her age and the lack of stimulus.

There was also the case of three deaf children who were raised together by a very strict mother who refused to teach them sign language and always forbade them from using gestures to communicate. She felt it would be better for them to learn to read lips in order to advance in society. After a few years, some social workers discovered, while the mother was out of the room, that the 3 children had developed their own sign language. They had developed it without outside help, but it was as complex and nuanced as any other language. They had kept it a secret from their mother and after the discovery they were taught proper sign language. But it kind of shows that the human brain will instinctively use its language function even without being actively taught so long as their is some outside stimulus.

I'm not sure if I understood what he was getting at, I'm no linguist but it was a fascinating read.

Elizabeth
27-06-03, 16:54
Originally posted by Maciamo
I still have doubts about it, in particular because all brains are different, and the genetic dispositions are especially different between ethnic groups. Would you think a Japanese has better "innate" dispositions to learn Japanese than English. Do you think a person of Germanic blood could learn Germanic languages more easily than another European, which could themselves learn them more easily than non Europeans ?
To answer this question, we need to study cases of adopted children (adopted right at birth if possible) and raised in a different ethnic and linguistic group, then analyse brain shapes and assess how different the "alien" and local ethnic group are.

In migrant countries like the US, it would be easy to make such comparisons, but the socio-economic factors are also important. Ideally, children of different ethinc group should be raised together in the same family for comparison. But once more, there are other factors, such as individual intelligence, which are already set at birth (depending on the mother's health and nutrition, genetic factors, etc.).

There are surely be researches made on this, but I don't have knowledge of them.
Yes of course there are millions of cases of kids being born in the US to migrant parents or of foreign adoptions who pick up English through peers, schooling and cultural exposure etc as proficiently and accent-free as one whose ancestry goes back four or five generations.

Chomsky's basic point on universal grammar is that children acquiring a language have an innate predisposition for grammatical regularization, never producing errors that fall outside the range of any known language. For instance, they don't make wild overgeneralizations such as: "What did you eat your cereal and?" as opposed to "with," even though the answer is "I ate cereal and eggs".

Maciamo
27-06-03, 17:31
For instance, they don't make wild overgeneralizations such as: "What did you eat your cereal and?" as opposed to "with," even though the answer is "I ate cereal and eggs".

Isn't it included in the meaning of the word "with" and "and" themselves ? Of course, this defintion will be different in another language. Prepositions are probably the less universal thing in a language. Why do we say "on the street" in American English, "in the street" in British English and Italians literally say "by street" (per strada) ?

What makes me disagree most is that it is perfectly possible to learn a foreign language and become as fluent as a native starting well after the age of 9 or 10, while Chomsky seems to believe that is isn't in the examples of isolated chidlren who couldn't learn because their innate grammar hadn't been used for so long. Japanese has a completely different structure and grammar, but that doesn't make it impossible to learn, even for adults.

Elizabeth
27-06-03, 18:16
Originally posted by Maciamo
Isn't it included in the meaning of the word "with" and "and" themselves ? Of course, this defintion will be different in another language. Prepositions are probably the less universal thing in a language. Why do we say "on the street" in American English, "in the street" in British English and Italians literally say "by street" (per strada) ?

What makes me disagree most is that it is perfectly possible to learn a foreign language and become as fluent as a native starting well after the age of 9 or 10, while Chomsky seems to believe that is isn't in the examples of isolated chidlren who couldn't learn because their innate grammar hadn't been used for so long. Japanese has a completely different structure and grammar, but that doesn't make it impossible to learn, even for adults.
I don't know this for a fact, but I'm assuming that certain (or all?) conjunctions (such as "and" "but" "or" etc) never come at the end of questions (or complete, well-formed sentences?) in any language, even in cases like the above example where the meaning would be clear either way.

Re the second point, the distinction comes in the left hemispheric (where most language is processed) atrophy of brains that have never known normal language, or really even meaningful sounds of any kind to speak of in the case of Genie. It is like not getting out of bed until 13 or 14. Naturally that individual is probably never going to be able to walk instinctively which is much more robust and innate than language. Some people even claim a kid watching television alone 24 hours a day should show grammar deficits. In other words, social interaction is a necessary but alone not sufficient condition to learning the language(s) of one's environment.

Elizabeth
28-06-03, 02:10
Originally posted by Maciamo
Moral, like language, is a human invention and is highly cultural. Children aren't born with values, nor are they born with elements of language (except maybe those already acquired in the womb, as foetuses can hear).

Children don't need to be explicitely taught all moral rules. They can understand them by themselves, intuitively (i.e through unconscious reasoning and learning), but it isn't from an innate knowledge, as this doesn't exist.

I think we are just arguing about the philosophical issue of innate ideas (rationalism) vs acquired ones (empiricism (http://www.encyclopedia.com/html/e1/empirici.asp) ) . Some philosophers (Descartes...) believe that the mind can create entirely new ideas unrelated to experience, while others (Locke, Hume...) think everything is based on experience. I believe in the latter, while you and Chomsky are followers of the former conception.
It is interesting, isn't it? I do recall once reading a cross-cultural study of morality which compared middle-class American kids with Hindu-Brahmin culture in India and found the Indians consumed with matters of social and religious convention, such as eating codes (the worst violations being something to the effect the day after his father's death, the eldest son had a haircut and ate chicken) while the American children were predictably fixated on questions of social and interpersonal justice or humanitarianism (violence, abuse, fairness, trust, equality, etc.) The interpretation being that in the Brahmin community studied, rules were seen as part of a natural religious order, found rather than founded by people, which therefore take on a level of transcendence only imagined by most Western children.



And here is an excerpt from a summastion I found in a paper on Chomsky's supposed or not rationalism/nativism/pragmatism, etc.

http://www.bu.edu/wcp/Papers/Lang/LangLiu2.htm

The nature of knowledge of language, which is closely tied to human knowledge in general, makes it a logical step for Chomsky to generalize his theory. The linguistic theory for special 'Plato problem' can be applied to 'Plato's problem' to knowledge in general, providing that an empirical evidence of such problem for a certain knowledge. He says, his innate principle includes syntax, phonology, and morphology, and semantics. By 'semantics' he means the study of the relation between language and the world Ein particular, the study of truth and reference. (8) At the same time, he also generalizes his idea of UG, especially the process of parameter determination in acquiring a particular natural language for a subject. "This result of this process of parameter determination and periphery formation is a full and richly articulated system of knowledge. ...The same may well be true of large areas of what might be called 'commonsense knowledge and understanding'". (9) The first generalization, generalization of 'Plato's problem' to knowledge in general, is correct. The second generalization, seems to us, is too hasty. The advances in neural science and mathematics have produced new theory on complex systems. For a vast complicated system as human brain, which is tremendously flexible and which processes abstract concepts at many different levels, the theory of parameter determination over-simplifies the problem we are facing.

2

Chomsky proposed, in our view, a plausible theory of language. The different approaches between E-language and I-language may be similar to the Brahe and other's observational astronomy, which collected a vast body of data, and Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Kepler's model of planetary motion, even though the details of the model might be questionable. Chomsky's first generalization is also a legitimate step. But his proposal of "innate ideas" has been resisted by some empiricists, and he is characterized as rationalist. In our view, those empiricists make a mistake. In order to clarify this issue we will cite Chomsky's statements in spite of somewhat redundancy.

Chomsky attempts to develop a theory of linguistics as a discipline of natural sciences or physical sciences, which are empirically based. He specifically objects to 'Abstract-linguistics' (10) and he maintains that the boundary between linguistics and natural sciences will shift or disappear. The theory of mind aims to determine the properties of the initial state So and each attainable state SL of the language faculty, and the brain sciences seek to discover the mechanisms of the brain that are the physical realizations of these states. (11) Eventually, the linguistics and the brain science will converge. Chomsky uses the term 'mechanism', which refers to the physical mechanism. (12) He says, one task of the brain sciences, is to discover the mechanisms of brain that are the physical realization of the state SL. What he means by physical realization is the physically encoded mental state on the brain. "In contrast to E-language, the steady state of knowledge (I-language) attained and the initial state So are real elements of particular mind/brains, aspects of the physical world, where we understand mental states and representations to be physically encoded in some manner." (13) Chomsky's UG is biologically determined (14) principles too. Chomsky seems to use 'physically' and 'biologically' interchangeable. In this aspect Chomsky's universals that are biologically realized and physically encoded in brain, are different from Descarte's innate ideas.

Chomsky rejects the fictional and abstract objects and, especially, rejects the suggestion that knowledge of language should be taken to be an abstract "Platonic" entity. He says; "Knowing everything about the mind/brain, a Platonist would argue, we still have no basis for determining the truths of arithmetic or set theory, but there is not the slightest reason to suppose that there are truths of language that would still escape our grasp." (15) He differentiates linguistics from mathematics and emphasizes the empirical aspect of linguistics and its relationship to brain sciences; therefore, the justification of his theory is not only a theoretical matter, but also an empirical that relies on the results of brain science. Based on Chomsky's positions on the nature of his linguistics theory, we conclude that he has been mistaken as a rationalist. In the next section, we will discuss some of the debates on this subjects and other related issues.

3

One of the reason that he is regarded as a rationalist might be that Chomsky tries to differentiate himself from the linguistic behaviorism and he emphasizes some of reasonable core of "rationalism" to make a statement that my "sausage-making machines" (16) is not tabula rasa, but has complex, dedicated parts and structure. The other reason is the tradition of the rationalist philosophy of language, philosophical grammar. (17) He is not satisfied with the explanatory power of the descriptive grammar. Philosophical grammar is "typically concerned with data not for itself but as evidence for deeper, hidden organizing principles,..." (18) However, it may be surprising, his term 'rationalism' is equivalent to 'natural science', He states that the issue of rationalist philosophy of language "is not between descriptive and prescriptive grammar, but between description and explanation, between grammar as 'natural history' and grammar as a kind of 'natural philosophy' or, in modern terms, 'natural science.'" (19) He particularly criticizes the lack of physical, empirical aspects of Cartesian rationalism. (20)

Rationalism stressed the power of reason as opposed to empirical facts and used deductive reasoning as the basis for their knowledge system. Chomsky's theory is an empirical science and his method is largely based on linguistic empirical data. Therefore, Chomsky's theory is not rationalist in the classical sense. Some of his opponents (Quine, Wells) confuse what Chomsky is claiming and what he is doing. (21)

Understanding of Chomsky's position on those issues, some of the objections to his theory become automatically invalid, Goodman (22) raises a question. How does Chomsky start from some subtle difference in linguistics and then moves on to innate ideas? "I know what a horse with spirit is, but not what the spirit is without the horse." (23) This UG is not something that "a spirit without a horse" at all.

On the other hand, Chomsky's theory is empirical, but different from behaviorism linguistics. On the issue of "innate structure", Harman does not accept Chomsky's theory of innate structures. He said: "I view linguistics, it is closer to both anthropology and the behavioral sciences than he would apparently allow." (24) Quine argues: "This indisputable point about language is in no conflict with latter-day attitudes that are associated with the name of empiricism, or behaviorism. (25) There are two major differences between behaviorism and Chomsky's theory. Behaviorism treats a complex system as a black box, a functional mechanism. If two black box function exact the same, behaviorism and functionalism regards them exact the same. This is Quine's so-called 'enigma doctrine'. He says, "English speakers obey, in this sense, any and all of the extensionally equivalent systems of grammar that demarcate the right totality of well-formed English sentences." (26) However, Chomsky's "theories of grammar and UG are empirical theories" and his systems of grammar is physically encoded in some manner. The development of brain science will discover the very physical structure of human brain, and there can be only one of a set of "extensionally equivalent systems of grammar" is correctly attributed to the speaker-hearer as a property that is the same as that is physically encoded, where some other one merely happens to fit the speaker's behavior but does not correctly represent the physical facts. The second difference is reflected by the relationship between I-language and E-language. E-language, as the traditional behaviorist linguistics, deals with steady-state language, or mature language; while I-language in Chomsky's theory specifies not only the internal characteristics of language, but also deals with a dynamic process, language acquiring process, from initial state So to the steady state SL. (27) E-language is independent of a individual's history, while I-language explains the language aspect of individual's history. This dynamic process puts more constraints on the characteristics of the languages. I-languages may reach the same steady state SL and realize the steady state languages that have "extensionally equivalent systems of grammar"; while these I-languages may specify different dynamic processes that reach SL. These processes differentiate I-languages one another and some of them can be proved to be wrong theories regarding the language acquisition process. Therefore, extensionally equivalent systems of grammar in the traditional grammar sense is not necessarily equivalent in terms of I-language.

Nagel questioned whether the initial contribution of the organism to language-learning is properly described as knowledge. (28) Dummett questions the concept of unconscious knowledge. (29) He holds that there is an extremely important innate capacity but it would not called innate knowledge in either case. Chomsky introduces "cognize" in trying to resolve the issue, which we think it might be superficial. In computer science, a computation can be either realized through software, which is written in computer language, or through hardware, which is built by the logic circuits composed of physical parts. Both functions exactly the same. If we can do an extrapolation or analogy, ideas might be realized through abstract symbol systems or through neural-network. The two mode of structures may have effects on the recognizability. This is a speculation. But our point is that UG is proposed as hypothesis, and if the 'notion of structure' is correct, other hypothesis may be assumed on what kind of structure is and how the structure operates. The final settlement relies on new development of brain sciences.

UG as a hypothesis raises questions about to what extend the hypothesis correctly captures the structure of brain. Danto says:

"...to what extent does the innate structure of language formation sink into the world, giving it linguistic form, or the form of our language(s)? So far as LA is universal, we live perforce in the same world if the structure of our world reflects the structure of language. Obviously, something produced by means of a different LA would not be recognizably a language, nor would the world correlative with this, if there is this correlatively, be recognizably the world. A wholly different language or a wholly different world would be unintelligible, but is the very idea unintelligible?". (30)

Chomsky treats the innate idea as a fixed form (common grammar hypothesis), which resembles rationalist doctrine of ideas; while his attempts in providing a natural science of language is not consistent with such hypothesis. In this aspect, Herbert Spencer (Principle of Psychology) might be right that innate ideas, such as adopt form of thought, like the perception of space and time, or the notions of quantity and cause, which Kant supposed innate, are merely instinctive ways of thinking; and as instincts are habits acquired by the race but native to the individual, so these categories are mental habits slowly acquired in the course of evolution, and now part of our intellectual heritage. In Spencer's word, "the inheritance of accumulating modifications". If this is correct, chimpanzee and human ability in communication and maybe language can be bridged in principle, and the study of chimpanzee's brain would help to discover the innate structure physically encoded in a certain manner too.

Jan
30-06-03, 01:19
There`s@an article in TIME magazine June 2 2003 that takes on the nature vs. nurture issue., Chomsky is mentioned.
Jan

Elizabeth
30-06-03, 01:44
Originally posted by Jan
There`s@an article in TIME magazine June 2 2003 that takes on the nature vs. nurture issue., Chomsky is mentioned.
Jan
Well, he's certainly a divisive and bullying personality, that's for sure, renowned for blowing off dissenters as ignorant and judgmental; ranting at doctoral students' questions, even in public lectures; and generally trying to intimidate the whole establishment through sheer force of his will. Good for uncovering the truth about the Middle East or the CIA, but whatever your take on the issues, the depth and passion of the resentment Chomsky has managed to generate from erstwhile students and faculty is pretty staggering and very disheartening. :auch:

mdchachi
30-06-03, 05:44
I happened to run into this related research paper yesterday:
http://www.nissan.ox.ac.uk/nops/nops32.pdf

kixot
30-06-03, 06:20
I'm not a linguist or anything like it, but, as I've been told by linguists. The easiest way to explain Chomsky's theories is saying two things (as far as I've understood):

1- There is a "brainese" that is the same for everyone.
2- Everyone is born with the capability and necessity of grammar, not with grammar fixed inside.

I've built this "abstract" as an engineer that I am that sometimes talks with linguists. So if you can't get me please ask and if I'm wrong please tell me.

Satori
02-01-04, 13:19
Maciamo,

Here are a couple of Chomsky links that might be helpful:


http://web.mit.edu/linguistics/www/chomsky.home.html


http://monkeyfist.com/ChomskyArchive/linguistics


Satori
:)

Maciamo
03-01-04, 04:30
Thanks Satori ;)

Satori
03-01-04, 04:32
You're welcome, Maciamo. Glad I could be of help! :)

Hanoi
30-01-05, 02:31
@innate abilities
But it is NOT innate, just instinctive, which I suspect these linguists don't understand. It is based on my knowledge and experience, but the thinking process in unconscious. "Innate" means that the knowledge exist at birth and doesn't require more learning or experience.

Hi,

1) Either I am confused or you are! I always believe that 'innate' and 'instinctive' mean just the same: something already in our genetic makeup.

2) I would say the way a child learns the first language is much different from the way you learn foreign languages. Supposing that you do not speak Arabic, and you go to Iraq to learn it for 4 years. I woud bet that after 4 years of hardwork, you'd be more than happy to find that your Arabic is a third as good as that of a 4-year-old child of any nationality who was born and bred in the Arabic language environement. That is THE difference, and also one of the arguments to support Chomsky.

Hanoi
30-01-05, 02:41
[QUOTE=Maciamo]Isn't it a counter-argument ? If they had innate grammatical capabilities, they wouldn't need to acquire them in their early childhood. That seems justly to confirm my idea that language need to be learnt (even unconsciously) but human contacts. I don't see the see for... QUOTE]

No, it is NOT a counter-argument. Children are born with an innate ability to naturally acquire language, or with a language faculty, to use Chomsky's term. But (as far as I know)this ability/faculty must be activated (just like a forum account must!). The activation is the exposure to natural language. I think Chomsky calls it 'parameter setting'.