A. Katz amnfn at
Wed Oct 27 13:35:58 UTC 2010


Let me ask you this: on what evidence do you base the assertion that most 
organisms do not acquire human language in linguistic immersion? (I'm 
assuming you're not counting bacteria here, but are referring to mammals 
and birds.)

Is it because most other animals can't produce the sounds of human 
languages? Do you recognize that a mute human being can acquire human 
language but be unable to speak? Does comprehension at all count for you?
Have you ever had a dog? Have you ever had a dog who understood a language 
that some humans who were present did not understand?

I'm not talking about responding to rote commands that have been trained. 
I'm talking about responding to nonce utterances. I have seen dogs 
understand what I said to them, while the humans who were present in the 
room, but were not speakers of the language, did not understand.

Like you, I was specifically taught that parrots only immitate, and since 
I had never had a parrot, I believed that for a very long time. It's only 
in the past decade, after I saw the evidence, that I changed my mind.

Are you speaking from the same kind of belief? Do you believe this because 
you read it in a book or because your professors taught it to you? How 
much experience do you have with non-humans? If the answer is not much, 
isn't it about time you got to know some other animals? Or if that's not 
possible, because you live in a city under cramped conditions, couldn't 
you at least interview people who do have that experience?



On Wed, 27 Oct 2010,  José-Luis Mendívil wrote:

> 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
> Spain

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