Ellen F. Prince ellen at CENTRAL.CIS.UPENN.EDU
Fri Apr 25 15:21:58 UTC 1997

so, if i understand you correctly, the issue being discussed is not
innateness at all but modularity? correct?

elizabeth bates wrote:
>I think we all agree that humans have language because we are human.
>Dogs don't have language because they are dogs.  The debate is not
>about innateness in some general sense, but about DOMAIN SPECIFICITY,
>that is, do we have language because we have evolved some kind of
>domain-specific language acquisition device (which might, as some
>linguists have proposed, consist in innate linguistic knowledge,
>wired right into the brain)?  Or do we have language because of
>one or many characteristics that distinguish the human brain  from
>the brains of other mammals, even other primates.  Candidates
>for such characteristics include (although this is certainly not
>exhaustive) massive differences in size, striking differences
>in allometry (the proportion of various regions to one another),
>degree of direct cortical control over the articulators, and
>so on. These various adaptations (which are quantitative, not
>qualitative) appear to have had some interesting computational
>consequences, i.e. there are classes of problems we can solve
>and kinds of learning we can do that are not available to
>other species.  Hence these QUANTITATIVE changes in brain have
>brought about QUALITATIVE changes in possible outcomes.  On
>this second scenario, we get some domain-specific results
>"for free", and do not need to postulate
>evolution of domain-specific mechanisms.  All the parts of the
>brain that "do" language also "do" other kinds of work, and
>if the regions of the brain that usually "do" language are
>destroyed in infancy, it seems that a number of alternative
>brain plans are possible, and emerge in response to the language
>problem.  So the parts of the brain that execute language (and
>there are a lot of them that keep popping up in neural imaging
>studies these days) are flexible, and they haven't "given up their
>day jobs", i.e. they are not specific to language and they continue
>to do non-linguistic forms of processing.
>Obviously I favor the second, domain-general scenario, because
>I think the evidence is strongly in its favor, especially the
>neurobiological evidence.  However, I would never want to argue
>that we have the same brains and the same processing/learning
>abilities of dogs!  One can reject the strong, domain-specific
>claims about innateness without being forced to the silly conclusion
>that nothing is innate.  -liz bates

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