Enrique Figueroa E. efiguero at CAPOMO.USON.MX
Fri Apr 25 03:23:30 UTC 1997

On Thu, 24 Apr 1997, Liz Bates wrote:

> >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
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).
Please notice the extremely cautious (and tricky?) expressions "general
human program" and "in a detalied way".
I would say that there has (also?) been evidence that certain aspects of
language acqusisition, development and actual linguistic behaviour are
due to and explainable by the general interaction of the individual with
the social milieu, as opposed to being guided in a detailed way by a
9genetic) biological program.

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."
>As for Chomsky's open avowal of his Platonic views: >
> (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)

May I propose an inversion such as this?

The evidence seems compelling, indeed overwhelming, that fundamental
aspects of our apparently biological (such as sexual behaviour) and
mental such as cognitive processes) life, including language, are
largely determined as part of our social interaction, not inherited via
inheritance, still less innately possessed qua members of the human

Further inversions of the cited line of reasoning can be easily made and
would be, at least, equally sound and convincing.

Max >

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