Jagdish Jain 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 
economic illness.
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.

Jagdish Jain

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