Liz Bates bates at CRL.UCSD.EDU
Thu Apr 24 23:52:44 UTC 1997

>Nobody I know of, including people who have been cited as making such
>claims in the past, now holds this strong a position, because it is so
>biologically unlikely. Most of the properties of an organism that are
>demonstrably under strong genetic control nevertheless involve the
>interaction of multiple genes.

In response to Lise's point, I enclose the following quote from Gopnik and
Crago (1991), a followup in Cognition to the earlier letter to Nature by
Gopnik (1990).

"It is not unreasonable to entertain an interim hypothesis that a single
dominant gene controls for those mechanisms that result in a child's
ability to construct the paradigms that constitute morphology" (p. 47).

Along the same lines (though without a SINGLE gene claim), I enclose the
following rather lengthy quote from a 1996 chapter by Ken Wexler, which
contains very strong claims about innateness of language and the
maturational nature of change, together with a view of plasticity that is
certainly a minority view today (most developmental neurobiologists view
plasticity as the primary mechanism of normal brain development, not some
bizarre exception that holds only under unusual circumstances). Following
Wexler are a few quotes from Chomsky's Managua Lectures (1988), rather
clear statements, I think, of a very strong and literal version of
innateness.   -liz bates

"One of the major results of the study of language acquisition in recent
years, I believe, is the demonstration that children's language conforms to
UG [Universal Grammar] in many essential respects.....At the same time,
there has been evidence that certain aspects of UG mature (i.e. develop
according to a general human program, as opposed to being guided in a
detailed way by experience; Borer & Wexler, 1987, 1992; Wexler, 1990a).
The sense of maturation I have in mind is, say, the maturation that
underlies the development of a second set of teeth or of secondary sexual
charactaeristic.  These developments take place according to a biological
program, with somewhat varying times in the population.  Although the
environment certainly can affect the maturation (e.g. nutrition might
affect the development of secondary sexual characteristics), it is
uncontroversial that the development is essentially guided by a biological,
genetically determined program. There is reason to believe that some
aspects of UG share this rather omnipresent aspect of biological phonemona.
Biological structures and processes mature according to a biological
program, either before or after birth.

   The idea of genetically programmed maturation is so strong in the study
of biology that a special term has been defined for exceptions.  This term
is "plasticity."  Plasticity means that there is experience-dependent
variation in biological stuctures or processes.  It is considered a major
discvoery in the study of the brain in neuroscience, for example, when it
is demonstrated that a certain process is plastic.  The reason this is
considered a major discovery is because the general view is one of a
biological, genetically based program guiding development (see Nadel &
Wexler, 1984, for discussion)." (quotes from pp. 117-118).

>>From Kenneth Wexler, "The development of inflection in a bioligically based
theory of language acquisition."  In Mabel Rice (Ed.), Towards a genetics
of language.  Mahwah, Ner Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1996, 113-144.

(Chomsky, N.  Language and problems of knowledge: the Managua Lectures.
MIT Press, 1988):
³The evidence seems compelling, indeed overwhelming, that fundamental
aspects of our mental and social life, including language, are determined
as part of our biological endowment, not acquired by learning, still less
by training,  in the course of our experience² (p. 161)
³Now this illustrates a very general fact about biology of organs.  There
has to be sufficiently rich environmental stimulation for the genetically
determined process to develop in the manner in which it is programmed to
develop....The term for this is ³triggering²; that is, the experience does
not determine how the mind will work but it triggers it, it makes it work
in its own largely predetermined way.² (p. 172).
³How can we interpret [Plato's] proposal in modern terms?  A modern variant
would be that certain aspects of our knowledge and understanding are
innate, part of our biological endowment, genetically determined, on a par
with the elements of our common nature that cause us to grow arms and legs
rather than wings.  This version of the classical doctrine is, I think,
essentially correct.² (p. 4)
³Turning to still more general principles, it is reasonable to speculate
that the possibility of forming complex constructions with an embedded
clausal complement involves no learning at all.  Rather, this possibility
is simply available as a principle of the language faculty.² (p. 17)

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