Pinker: "The Language Instinct"

From: tim l (
Date: Fri Nov 28 1997 - 19:21:29 GMT

as I said the first chapter doesnt really say any thing.
although it is quite interesting so I recommend that you read
it even if you dont read the rest of the book.

in chapter two (chatterboxes) pinker tells us about a whole
bunch of stuff with the aim of proving that language has become an
instinct for the whole human race and is not learnt anew by each of
us individually and to this end we have an area in the brain
specifically evolved to deal with language which has a built in set of
grammar parameters, and that we have a specific set of genes which
sorts it all out for us.

the first major bit of evidence for this comes from pidgins
and creoles. im sure you all remember that pidgins are
'makeshift' languages which come into being when workers from
many different countries are brought together to work in the
same place. they mainly use words from the language of the
owners of the plantation or whatever they are working on. the
notable things about pidgins is that they have no consistent
word order, no prefixes or suffixes, no tenses and no
consistent way to indicate who did what to whom. so for
example a pidgin speaker when talking about why he went to
work in hawaii from the philippines said ''good, dis one.
kaukau any-kin' dis one. philippine islan' no good. no mo
money'' (i think 'kaukau means food).

pidgins only last for one generation as the children who are
born to creole speakers tend to add the necessary grammar to
turn it into a properly regulated language: a creole. an
example of some creole is ''one time when we go home inna
night dis ting stay fly up'' which means once when we went
home in the night this thing was flying about. it has been
noticed that creoles from unrelated language mixtures across
the world have 'uncanny resemblances - perhaps even the same
basic grammar' and that many mistakes that children from
'proper' language backgrounds make are perfectly valid in
many of the worlds creoles.

he then says all that stuff about 'the poverty of the
stimulus' which im still not entirely sure I understand but
anyway he says its all about sentence structures which are
''so rare as to be non existent in motherese'' such as
questions with a second auxiliary embedded in the subject

e.g.. [a horse that is eating a flower] is in the garden.

 turns into

is [a horse that is eating a flower] in the garden?

amazingly though all the children who were tested to see if
they could turn such sentences into such questions were
entirely successful. none if them produced sentences of the

is [a horse that eating a flower] is in the garden?

which it might have been thought was equally likely.

another example against language learning being entirely
imitation is that children use words that they would never
have heard anyone say especially when using irregular verbs.
for example children have been known to say things like;
''when she be's at kindergarden'' and ''he gots a scary
costume'' which means that they are subconsciously assuming
that all verbs follow the same rules all the time.

could this all be just coincidence or is it true what they
say about there being a universal grammar? hmmm...

this is turning out to be way too long so im going to write
the rest in pidgin

damage lower parts of left hemisphere frontal lobe- brocca's
aphasia- lose grasp grammar. correct answer ''does a stone
float on water?'' probably not correct ''a lion is killed by
a tiger; which one is dead?'' function words tricky- even
miss out reading. still normal iq nonverbal- maps read,
maths, both hands draw.

born similar impediments- deafness, autism, retardation ruled
out- 'specific language impediment'. particular family- mrs k
sli- sli- five children- four sli- other daughter normal- all
daughters children normal. between sli children mrs k 23
grandchildren- 12 normal- 11 sli- random among families,
sexes, birth orders.

opposite dissociation- linguistic idiot savants. example-
denyse- spina bifida- hydrocephalus- same bianca eastender
daughter. increase pressure cerebro spinal fluid- crush
majority brain- leave language areas intact. result- not
read, write, handle money- institution- not outside world.
however sophisticated conversationalist- nonexistent
friends, holidays, bank accounts- grip reality firm not.

as my friend forest would say thats about all I have to say
about that. ill tell you about chapters 3-5 later im afraid
ive got better things to do at the moment.

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