(no subject)

Gordon Selway gordonselway at gn.apc.org
Sat Feb 6 01:19:16 UTC 1999

Two or three interesting, and maybe productive in terms of hypothesis, but
maybe not in terms of falsifiability (if we can be Popperish) arise:

(i) if language is something we are peculiarly adapted to as a species,
both in the configuration of our respiratory tracts and in the way our
brains work, then there are several immediate (and of course many more
mediate) changes required to permit us the language ability, and maybe
evolution (in a Darwinian sense) might have refined the ability since it
first arose.  However, as with almost any evolutionary change (as I
understand it), it must have arisen 'abruptly' in the sense that the
parents did not have the ability (except in an inchoate form with all but
one or however many of the change needed already in place, but the last
voussoir not in place as it were, so that the arch of language cannot bear
weight) but the offspring did.

(ii) in practice we do pick up a wide repertory of vowels and consonants
within a short time, when we first acquire language.  When we grow up, it
appears that most of us find it more and more difficult to add to our sound
repertories.  If the ability to acquire language has been more or less
consistent during its existence, then the potential for all those sounds
ought in theory to have arisen at one time.  Whether it could be realised
is obviously a different question.

(iii) some of the objections made to these points seem to me to have the
same savour as some of the objections made to the theory of the evolution
in the 19th century, looking to rhetoric for their effects, rather than the

Gordon Selway
<gordonselway at gn.apc.org>

At 4:14 pm 2/2/1999, manaster at umich.edu wrote:

>I can't speak for Noam, but I think I am his ilk, and I did talk to him
>recently about the evolution of lg capacity.  I think the view he has
>(which I dont accept) is that the lg capacity did come about rather
>abruptly, but this does not say anything about how long it then took for
>people to figure out how to use it.  That is, this capacity can only be
>used if you have specific phonemes, specific roots, etc., and no one
>doubts that these are not innate and may have taken time to evolve. It's
>like the human ability to do theoretical computer science.  Obviously we
>are born with some degree of ability in this regard, unlike say a
>parakeet, but until the 1930's, there was no way to use this faculty.

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