debate, innate

Chris Cleirigh cleirig at SPEECH.USYD.EDU.AU
Mon Apr 28 22:48:04 UTC 1997

At 11:31 PM 4/27/97 -1000, Dick Hudson wrote:

>Personally I think `formal' vs `functional' is like `right' vs `left' in
>politics - a very crude way of locating oneself and others in a really
>complex intellectual space. Maybe ok emotionally but not to be taken too
>seriously as a basis for scientific thinking.

For me this touches on the issue of the role of desire and fear in the
acceptance and rejection of classes of theories.

For example, does the word "innate" raise fears of intrinsic and
uncontestable superiority/inferiority?

Is "innate" used to satisfy a desire to establish an *essential*
difference between humans and other organisms?

Does the linking of an innate syntax to genes raise the fear that
an *essential* property of humans may be spliced into the genomes
of other species?

In this regard, I noticed that innate syntax is more readily
accepted among (some) linguists than genes for syntax. This is a
gap that needs some explaining.

For those who think syntax is innate and coded in the genome:

Once these genes arose through mutation or recombination, how
did they spread through the gene pool to be found in almost
every genome?

Did they provide more offspring for the individuals that possessed
them (some imagination here pays dividends)?

Or perhaps genes for syntax are linked to other genes that
directly provide more offspring (say, by stronger than average
chemical bonds)?

What are the alleles of the genes for syntax (cf blond vs black hair)?

For those who think syntax is innate but not coded in the genome:

How is the information transmitted from one generation to the next?
Is it epigenetic, a result of the cascade of interactions during
brain development?  If so, would the removal of some genes prevent
the development of innate syntax?

I am assuming here that what is claimed as innate is more than just a
neurophysiological and anatomical capacity.  Perhaps someone can
clarify this for me.


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