innate syntax

José-Luis Mendívil Giró jlmendi at POSTA.UNIZAR.ES
Fri Apr 25 18:22:47 UTC 1997

On Mon, 21 Apr 1997, Yoko Okita wrote:

> I am not so familiar with generative/functional terminology.
> But I have been wondering about the definition of "innate."
> What does "innate" mean??  Is it biological??
> Do people think any human gene carries linguistic syntactic
> information??

and on Mon, 21 Apr 1997 Enrique Figueroa:

>Unfortunately, Many pseudoneoCartesians believe this:
>"Sum, ergo loquor, ergo  cogito"
>Some others (dissidents, of course), this:
>"Sum, ergo cogito, ergo loquor"

I think the response is perhaps witty but skeen-deep. A simple question:
why should we consider _unfortunate_ such a belief? Is it (or has been) an
obstacle for Science?
By the other hand: Is syntax a social institution or a conscious,
technological human innovation? If it is not, then it must be a genetic
constraint, independently now if we consider that syntax developped
especifically in natural selection or not.

Even if we accept that syntax (in the sense of a computational system that
relates properly meaning and sound) can be learned, we would need to say
that the device to acquire that system is innate, ergo we can say (in a
provisional abstract sense) that syntax is innate (genetically determined
in our kind).
I believe this is not questionable. The open question is then if the
genetic material involved -which determines the structure of natural
languages- is specifically _syntactic_ or not, i.e., if the mind is able to
create that system  using some more general genetic information. Note that
even in that case syntax should be considered as innate.

Dr. Jose-Luis Mendivil Giro
Linguistica General
Universidad de Zaragoza
C/ Pedro Cerbuna, 12
50009 Zaragoza (Spain)
Fax. 34 976761541
Ph. 34 976761000 Ext. 3978

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