February 15, 2008

Without Pinker and Bloom, linguistics in a Chomskyan vein wouldn’t amount to much more than to some speculations

Shared Symbolic Storage Embodied Evolutionary-Developmental Computational Cognitive Neuroscience and other Stuff Monday, February 4, 2008
Language Evolution I: Noam Chomsky's Earlier Theories
Noam Chomsky is known as one of the strongest and most prominent opponents of the idea that Darwinian natural selection alone can account for the evolution of language...

Chomsky thinks language should be seen as a “spandrel” of some other structural change. The “answers may well lie not so much in the theory of natural selection as in molecular biology, in the study of what kinds of physical systems can develop under the conditions of life on earth and why, ultimately because of physical principles” (Chomsky 1988: 167). Though he does not deny that evolution played a role in the development of language, he stresses that it possibly emerged only via a small mutation and that ultimately only unknown operations of “physical laws applying to a brain of a certain degree of complexity” could explain the origin of the language faculty and its properties (Chomsky 1988: 170)...

With the rise of Chomsky’s Minimalist Program this view became more concrete: if only few principles ultimately comprise Universal Grammar (Pinker/Jackendoff 2005: 219),

“one does not need to advance incremental, adaptationist arguments with intermediate steps to explain much of natural language's specific syntactic design” (Berwick 1998: 322).

Still, without Pinker and Bloom’s seminal article in 1990, on which I will post next, and the work they inspired, linguistics in a Chomskyan vein probably still wouldn’t amount to much more than to some speculations when regarding the question of the evolution of language...

However, in 2002 Chomsky, who by now shruggingly admits that he ‘never would have imagined it would go this far“ (Kenneally 2007), presented an updated, drawn up and more elaborate version of this proposal together with Marc Hauser and W. Tecumseh Fitch.It is interesting in this regard to look at Marc Hauser's reply to the Edge Annual Question - 2008"What have you changed your mind about?" In it he writes:

"I must admit, however, that in recent years, I have made less use of Darwin’s adaptive logic. It is not because I think that the adaptive program has failed, or that it can’t continue to account for a wide variety of human and animal behavior. But with respect to questions of human and animal mind, and especially some of the unique products of the human mind — language, morality, music, mathematics — I have, well, changed my mind about the power of Darwinian reasoning."

These notions can probably be partly attributed to Hauser's contact with Chomsky's ideas... Posted by Michael at 11:25 Labels: , ,

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