A. Katz amnfn at
Tue Oct 26 16:09:43 UTC 2010

Hi, Jose-Luis,

I seemed to have gotten this message of yours twice, so I take it you 
really want an answer.

Your quote here from Fitch starts: "Clearly, immersion in a linguistic 
environment is not enough for language to develop in most organisms."

It's not clear to me. Some parrots do speak the language of the humans 
around them without special training, and they use it to communicate 
actual information relevant at the time.

So, clearly, having the articulatory apparatus to use a spoken human 
language helps. Humans without that apparatus and other animals need to 
use other ways of encoding the language -- such as writing -- and this 
sometimes requires a little teaching. Even so, Bow picked up literacy by 
himself, after exposure to spoken language and lexigrams in standard 



On Tue, 26 Oct 2010, jlmendi at wrote:

> "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 
> something
> provides one of our core explananda in biolinguistics. We might gloss this
> neutrally as ‘the human capacity to acquire language’. In generative 
> linguistics
> 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,
> José-Luis
> -- 
> Dr José-Luis Mendívil-Giró
> General Linguistics
> Universidad de Zaragoza
> Spain

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