Hubpage about the nature of language written for a general audience

Tahir Wood twood at
Fri Sep 12 10:35:47 UTC 2008

I found this piece admirably clear and useful in understanding the
functional perspective. However, I would like to make one small quibble.
I am not a Chomskyan linguist but I do think that in our haste to
distance ourselves from that paradigm I see many linguists of various
schools misrepresenting it, no doubt unintentionally. I think that there
is a mistake for example in the following sentence:

"Even when it is shown that the same people make the same grammatical
mistakes over and over again consistently while others do not, many
linguists still maintain that all people have the same grammatical
competence, just by virtue of being human."

My understanding is that 'grammtical competence' or 'linguistic
competence' (same thing to a Chomskyan) is competence in a specific
language, NOT the postulated innate language faculty. Those two things
are being conflated in the above. I also think that the following claim
is less than adequately supported by the text in question:

"Language is not a hardwired capacity that humans are born with." 

What you have very clearly explained is that (a) there is no part of
the brain that is specific to linguistic ability and (b) due to the way
people are socialised into language they end up with differential
competences. Both of these are slightly different points to the one in
the quote. In fact some of your points about development up to the age
of puberty do seem to rely on certain brain functions that are
specifically human. In other words your quotation above is rather
extravagant when seen in relation to the data that you cite. The
argument for the evolutionary development of the capacity for language
in hominisation remains compelling; I see nothing in your text to
convince me otherwise. And one does not have to be a Chomskyan to
recognise this.

But thank you for an interesting piece and I would be keen to hear from
anyone as to whether my reasoning is flawed.


>>> "A. Katz" <amnfn at> 09/11/08 3:39 PM >>>
Fellow Funknetters,

I've just published a hubpage article about language from a functional
perspective. The URL is: 

This piece is written for a general audience, so it goes light on the
jargon and explains things in ordinary terms accessible to everyone.
However, it does touch on the same issues that we like to discuss on
funknet, issues such as:

    * innateness versus learned behavior
    * the brain wiring itself for language
    * conditions necessary for a child to develop language
    * variations in the physical structure that processes language
    * variations in native speakers' ability to parse complex
    * competence versus performance
    * language instruction in the schools

I would very much appreciate your looking over this article and
comments. Also, if you think this material would be helpful to your
introductory linguistics students, you could offer it as suggested

There is no charge for viewing the article. The site is paid for by
Adsense and Kontera ads. Revenue from the article goes to fund Project
Bow, a language acquisition research project with a six year old
chimpanzee as the subject.

If you are interested in learning more about Project Bow, there are
some hubs about that, the most recent of which is: 

Looking forward to your input,

     --Aya Katz
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