jlmendi at jlmendi at
Tue Oct 26 15:51:26 UTC 2010

"A. Katz" <amnfn at> wrote:

> Innateness, if it were true as claimed for language, would mean that
> despite lack of exposure, the trait would manifest. Eye color is
> innate. Language is not. Language is learned.

Dear Aya (if I may):

If by language you mean French or Russian, I agree fully with you.  
It's learned. I think nobody says that language is innate in this  
sense. People defending that language is innate mean rather that there  
is an innate capacity to learn a language from the environment. A  
capacity that seems to be specific to humans (in the same sense that  
other animals have other capacities). Let me use a claryfing quote  
from Fitch (by the way, a non-linguist who thinks that linguistics is  
important, as requiered by Newmeyer's first message):

"Clearly, immersion in a linguistic environment is not enough for spoken
language to develop in most organisms. There must therefore be something about
human children which differentiates them from other species, and this  
provides one of our core explananda in biolinguistics. We might gloss this
neutrally as ‘the human capacity to acquire language’. In generative  
this capacity is traditionally called the ‘Language Acquisition Device’, and a
characterization of its properties termed ‘Universal Grammar’ (Chomsky 1965,
reviving a 17th century term). Universal Grammar (before Chomsky) simply
designated those aspects of human language competence which, because they are
shared by all humans and all languages, went unmentioned in traditional
grammars (Chomsky 1966, Allan 2007). For example, the notion that words exist
and have specific meanings does not need to be specified in a grammar  
of French
— it can be taken for granted. But this is precisely the sort of fact  
that does need to be explained by a successful biological approach to  
language. The original usage of the term made no particular claims  
about the nature of this competence (e.g., that it was specific to  
language, or conversely a general aspect of human cognition), nor did  
Chomsky’s revival of the term, which is quite neutral on such  
questions by my reading. However, both ‘Language Acquisition Device’  
and, especially, ‘Universal Grammar’ arouse suspicion and rejection  
from scholars who nonetheless accept that such a human-specific  
biological capacity exists (e.g., Lieberman 1998a, Tomasello 1999,  
2005). A huge amount of ink has been shed rejecting the term  
‘Universal Grammar’, even by people who accept without question that a  
biologically-based capacity to acquire complex language fully is a  
uniquely-powerful birth-right of any normal human, but no known  
animal. The substantive debate concerns not the existence of such a  
human capacity for language acquisition, which is abundantly clear  
regardless of terminology, but rather its nature (e.g., the degree to  
which it is specific to language)."

T.W. Fitch (2009): Prolegomena to a Future Science of Biolinguistics.  
In Biolinguistics,
3-4: p. 288

Best regards,

Dr José-Luis Mendívil-Giró
General Linguistics
Universidad de Zaragoza

More information about the Funknet mailing list