José-Luis Mendívil jlmendi at
Wed Oct 27 09:47:02 UTC 2010

El 26/10/2010, a las 18:09, A. Katz escribió:

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

I'm sorry, It was a mistake: I sent it to you and then to the list.

> 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.

Is it not clear for you that most organisms (even in linguistic 
immersion) do not acquire human language?

Nevertheless, if you believe that parrots speak English (or any other 
language), then our notion of 'language' is so different that more 
discussion is pointless.

Best regards,
José Luis

> 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 orthography.
> Best,
>    --Aya
> 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
Dr José-Luis Mendívil
General Linguistics
Universidad de Zaragoza

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