jjain at sfsu.edu
Tue Apr 24 19:03:28 UTC 2007
Dear Funknet members,
A response to Dan Everett's comments on my e-mail note of April 23, 2007
I am happy to read that Dan Everett recognizes that the PirahaN
people are cognitively modern human beings. ("We all are, yes." - Dan
Dan Everett says that discrete infinity is "not a Chomskyan
principle. Just a fact about combinatory principles that has been
around for ever." The phrase " discrete infinity" is Chomsky's. It is
true that the notion of "combinatory principles" had existed in all
forms of linguistics, for example, in Immediate-Constituent Analysis
of structural linguistics. But the idea that you can generate an
infinite number of linguistic expressions by using a finite number of
linguistic elements was Chomsky's major contribution. It seems even
now linguists like Dan Everett do not understand the significance of
it. ("Languages are not infinite though, not in practice, so this is
to some degree a metaphor." - - Dan Everett) This statement of Dan
Everett shows that he is not making a distinction between "the
finiteness of an individual user of a language" and "the discrete
infinity of language." An individual user of a language has finite
time on this planet: he/she is able to speak/understand or write/read
only a finite (although very large) number of linguistic expressions.
The finiteness is the property of the language user, not that of
language. And "recursion" is the key to 'discrete infinity."
In response to my statement that recursiveness/recursion is
"AVAILABLE to all languages," Dan Everett says, "This says nothing.
Facial recognition is available to all languages too." Dan Everett's
statement that "FACIAL RECOGNITION is available to all languages"
(=is a trait of language design on par with the Chomskyan notion of
discrete infinity) is astonishing. If he had intended to say "facial
expressions, gestures, etc.," I could have made some sense of it. As
far as I am concerned, facial expressions, gestures, etc. are part
(very important part) of communication through language, but they are
not traits of language design. The are, of course, indispensable in
communication through dance in India.
Dan Everett's hypothesis that "recursion is a fact about brains and
not about language" would astound students of Neural Sciences. The
location of the language is inside the human brain in a very
important sense (I-language of Chomsky).
A response to Steve Long's comments on my e-mail note of April 23, 2007
I am sorry that Steve Long finds the concept of the computational
processes of merging, adjoining etc, as "a shock" because he thinks I
am describing language "as some kind of ever-expanding Rubik's cube,
but leaving out any mention of the objective of all that merging,
adjoining, moving, etc."
No, I am not leaving out of the objective. The objective is to relate
sound and meaning (in spoken languages). These are not blind
processes. They are highly constrained. For example, the thematic
roles (agent, experiencer, theme, etc.) and the conceptual frame of a
lexical item are vital for merging operations. If I choose the
English lexical item "put." I have to satisfy its conceptual frame,
as was pointed out by Charles Fillmore a long time ago : it needs
"an entitity that performs the action of putting (agent), "an
entitity that is put" (theme) and a place (location). The merging
operations must satisfy the thematic roles and language particular
principles of the location of complements and subjects. The speaker
may produce an expression like "She put the food on the table." But
the computation " The food put her on the table" or " It is hard to
put food on your family" will not be acceptable because it cannot
relate sound and meaning (the primary objective of language). I hope
this will answer Steve Long's question, "why one bit of computation,
merging, adjoining, moving might be preferable to any other." See a
representative sample of English when the computational processes
have gone awry. All the examples are from the desk calendar "George
W. Bushisms." No disrespect to President Bush is intended.
1. A tax cut is really one of the anecdotes to coming out of an
2. It's in our country's interests to find those who would do harm to
us and get them out of harm's way.
3. It's a time of sorrow and sadness when we lose a loss of life.
4. I know how hard it is to put food on your family.
5. Laura and I really don't realize how bright our children is
sometimes until we get an objective analysis.
6. We don't want to discourage the innovations and those who take
risks because they're afraid of getting sued by a lawsuit.
I hope Steve Long will come out of his "shock" that he experienced
because of my earlier e-mail note.
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