Discourse and gibbons

Bryllars at concentric.net Bryllars at concentric.net
Fri Nov 15 13:59:58 UTC 2002

I agree with your letter -
    but I wonder how many of the features of human grammar that you note
are the result of the formalism derived from Chomsky.

In real terms the rules of that formalism (competence vs performance)
only reflect a "real" grammar if there is some kind of agreement on what is
or is not a sentence.
In many years of teaching linguistics to anthropologists I never could get
a class to agree on many of the sentences used in crucial arguments
in arguments in generative grammar.
(Postal examples for instance),

Hockett's features may or may not be too limited -
but some kind of relatively empirically based, psychologically real at some
features need to be used to make the comparison.

Karl Reisman
Bryllars at concentric.net

At 12:38 PM 11/15/02 +0000, you wrote:
>I find myself in substantial agreement with Celso in his points and
>rebuttals. But, once again, the issue is not whether chimps and their ilk
>have social interactions involving communication. No one could possibly
>deny this. The question is what these have to do with human language.
>Aside from Hockett's design features, hard to improve on, already
>mentioned in these discussions, the issue of 'grammar' is vital and it is
>not being seriously addressed.
>What is grammar? What do people know when they know the grammar of their
>language? If there are things like the projection principle, the trace
>filter, derivations by phases, spell-out, information-structuring and
>prosodic marking, among others, are their even remote parallels in
>non-human primates? I remember enjoying the primate-studying portions of
>my physical and cultural anthropology courses as an undergrad, and visits
>to the San Diego zoo to watch the gorillas and their kin. But that kind of
>activity, however enjoyable, seems rather orthogonal to the issue of
>whether other primates have grammar. How much of human grammar is
>determined by communicative constraints and how much by particular,
>arbitrary features of syntax (but an arbitrariness spread throughout Homo
>sapiens sapiens, if it is to be interesting)?  Of the components of
>grammar, can any be identified that are qualitatively unlike anything
>found in chimp communication?
>I am convinced that chimps, etc have intentions, can communicate, and
>think in some sense of that word. (Doing fieldwork with Amazonian Indians,
>I nonetheless eat primates, parrots, macaws, and other potential talking
>animals in order to learn Amazonian languages and cultures, so I suppose I
>do see a qualitative difference between the species). But the question is
>whether they have grammar. Notice that it does not require a commitment to
>innatism to reject the idea that other primates have grammar. That is a
>separate issue.
>In any case, I am not seeing enough attention given to the non-social,
>technical aspects of grammatical structure - how these arise, their
>uniqueness, their significance for this debate, etc.
>-- Dan Everett
>Dan Everett
>Professor of Phonetics and Phonology
>Department of Linguistics
>University of Manchester
>Oxford Road
>Manchester, UK
>M13 9PL
>Phone: 44-161-275-3158
>Department Fax: 44-161-275-3187

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