the "language instinct"

Discuss various aspects of natural language.

Moderators: Calilasseia, ADParker

Re: the "language instinct"

#41  Postby katja z » Nov 22, 2010 10:48 am

Zwaarddijk wrote:I am pretty sure the animal language stuff you posted is pure bunk.


In this case, I'd be very interested in your debunking, because those studies seemed pretty damn impressive to me. Are you saying that the demonstrated ability of animals to learn to distinguish acceptable from unacceptable sequential patterns has nothing to do with language syntax, or that the experimental setups were crap and failed to demonstrate this pattern recognition ability in animals?

Edited for grammar :doh:
User avatar
katja z
RS Donator
THREAD STARTER
 
Posts: 5353
Age: 40

European Union (eur)
Print view this post

Ads by Google


Re: the "language instinct"

#42  Postby my_wan » Nov 22, 2010 11:28 am

:coffee: booking for a more thorough read.

My knowledge about languages is quiet limited, but in a very general way I tend to see language as a type of abstract coordinate system. Very generally there are object, concepts, and actions, in which the structure defines the relationships between them.

Consider the western verses eastern address system. In the west we label roads, and the blocks are the unnamed spaces. In Asian countries it is the blocks that are labeled, and the roads are merely the unnamed spaces between the blocks. For those familiar with language structures, is there any corollary in the the language structure itself, and if so how well does it follow the structure of physical address systems per culture?

I looked at some structural differences here indicating omissions:
http://www.bowdoin.edu/asian-studies/chinese/intro/html/brief-sentencestructurelooser.shtml
1) omission of Verb:
English: Little Wang is a New Yorker.
Chinese: little Wang, New Yorker
Here, like the unnamed streets in their address system, the connection between little Wang and New Yorker is structurally assumed.

2) Subjectless, Verbless:
English: It is not hot today, but it was hot yesterday.
Chinese: today not hot, yesterday hot
Again, like the physical address system, the relation between [today not hot] and [yesterday hot] is only implicitly specified, lacking any explicit address specification.

3) Numeral as predicate:
English: He is eighteen years old this year.
Chinese: he this year eighteen years
Here you see multiple connectives omitted. The blocks [he], [this year], and [eighteen years] are the address system blocks in which the connecting relations are unnamed implications. Just like city blocks are named in the address system, but the connection roads are implicit and unnamed.

Has this been looked at more deeply before?
User avatar
my_wan
 
Posts: 967
Male

Country: US
United States (us)
Print view this post

Re: the "language instinct"

#43  Postby Zwaarddijk » Nov 22, 2010 5:02 pm

katja z wrote:
Zwaarddijk wrote:I am pretty sure the animal language stuff you posted is pure bunk.


In this case, I'd be very interested in your debunking, because those studies seemed pretty damn impressive to me. Are you saying that the demonstrated ability of animals to learn to distinguish acceptable from unacceptable sequential patterns has nothing to do with language syntax, or that the experimental setups were crap and failed to demonstrate this pattern recognition ability in animals?

Edited for grammar :doh:


One thing that friends on another forum pointed out was that studies involving chimps and sign language never had any native sign-language speakers on staff, and those that at some time happened to pass by were far from impressed. (I haven't heard whether they were also far from impressed with the staffs skills as far as sign-language goes.)
Zwaarddijk
 
Posts: 4334
Male

Country: Finland
Finland (fi)
Print view this post

Re: the "language instinct"

#44  Postby katja z » Nov 22, 2010 5:11 pm

Zwaarddijk wrote:
katja z wrote:
Zwaarddijk wrote:I am pretty sure the animal language stuff you posted is pure bunk.


In this case, I'd be very interested in your debunking, because those studies seemed pretty damn impressive to me. Are you saying that the demonstrated ability of animals to learn to distinguish acceptable from unacceptable sequential patterns has nothing to do with language syntax, or that the experimental setups were crap and failed to demonstrate this pattern recognition ability in animals?

Edited for grammar :doh:


One thing that friends on another forum pointed out was that studies involving chimps and sign language never had any native sign-language speakers on staff, and those that at some time happened to pass by were far from impressed. (I haven't heard whether they were also far from impressed with the staffs skills as far as sign-language goes.)

I don't think Mr. Samsa was referring to chimps learning sign language. I remember an intriguing paper on recognition of syntactic patterns in pigeons (I think it was pigeons). I hope he reposts the link here.
User avatar
katja z
RS Donator
THREAD STARTER
 
Posts: 5353
Age: 40

European Union (eur)
Print view this post

Re: the "language instinct"

#45  Postby UtilityMonster » Nov 22, 2010 6:26 pm

Mr.Samsa wrote:

They aren't "claims" I've heard, they are research I've read and studied. It's true that animals don't have language at the level we do, but there are obvious reasons for why this is (i.e. our massive culture which provides our children with intensive language training from the moment they are born until they die). Despite this, we still have evidence of animals doing spectacularly well at picking up aspects of language; for example, pigeons understand grammar and successfully discriminate between grammatical and ungrammatical sentences after around 2 months of training. Compare that to children, who still struggle into their teenage years (and often beyond that). We also have other animal feats in this area, like chickadees outperforming humans in their understanding of recursion, apes using vocal or sign language at a meaningful level, parrots and dolphins understanding grammatical order to perform tasks etc.

So if the question is whether animals can use language at the level we do, then the answer is clearly "no". If the question is whether animals can understand and use language, then the answer is clearly "yes". We have so much evidence on this that it really is unarguable at this point, so whilst there are still questions over the details, the one concrete conclusion we can come to is that language definitely isn't a human-only ability.


Wow! I cannot believe you said that! It is so clearly false. Think about it for a minute - children raised in communities together without a common language (or any language) develop their own language and communicate verbally with each other naturally. Animals actively raised from an early age to understand language cannot even come close to the level of human comprehension. This is not something that is "cultural," this is something that almost all psychologists and linguists agree upon is innately human. Humans have much larger and more sophisticated brains than animals do, and we are capable of more abstract thought and better capable of language comprehension and speech production. This is scientific fact.

Seriously - some animals have been trained since babies to speak and comprehend language. The most adapt are typically birds, as you mentioned (thus clearly suggesting that not all animals are equally capable). However, if animals could actually produce speech at the level that humans could, they would be doing it now. Dogs live in human households since they are puppies, and hear people speaking all day every day, just as children do, but they do not pick up much other than a few words like "walk" and their name. Some people have spent years upon years training certain animals, and while they have seen some success, they have found animals simply do not have the capacity to speak and comprehend language as well as humans do. However, I must say that even the rudimentary understanding of language that some animals possess is exciting!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7ht0a2-OnA[/youtube]

Mr. Samsa, I'm also curious what your beef is with Pinker. He is renowned as one of today's leading cognitive psychologists, and has received praise from the Four Horsemen and leading scientists as having contributed hugely to the field of psychology. You don't like him, however. Why?
The question is not, "Can they reason?" nor, "Can they talk?" but rather, "Can they suffer?"
User avatar
UtilityMonster
 
Posts: 1416
Age: 30
Male

Country: United States
United States (us)
Print view this post

Re: the "language instinct"

#46  Postby jodiebug » Nov 22, 2010 8:03 pm

Mr.Samsa wrote:When I referred to creole as "simplifying it and making it easy to understand" I was specifically talking about grammar - however, looking back at my sentence I worded that terribly. I meant to indicate that by devising a simple form of grammar, it simplified a lot of their conversation and made things easier to understand; simplified in the sense that there was a structure and rule to follow in order to convey specific information. Of course creole languages are more complex than pidgin, but the grammar used in creole is pretty simple.


I think you were just mistaken about what the argument entailed and the difference between a pidgin and a creole. creoles are full languages, and there is no meaningful difference in "complexity" of grammar between full languages. It is fully capable of expressing the social reality of the group-- once a language meets that requirement, it doesn't matter how many rules it has or how complicated it would be for a nonnative speaker to learn. It sounds like all you have read on this issue is opposition (kind of like your views on Evolutionary Psychology...).

What do you have to say about Nicaraguan sign language? Those kids used an entirely different medium for language when given the elements of speech through lip-reading. The first generation of children to use it had an incomplete system of communication, but it became a full language once their children had been raised with it. What is your cultural explanation for that?

Complex behaviors can easily come about through evolution (just look at the wasp that controls the mind of it's prey and rides it back to it's nest to lay eggs in it) and it is feasible that something like language could develop in an organism through means like this, but the problem is that it is completely unlike any other innate behavior we have. For example, if language were a FAP then it needs to meet the criteria of FAPs which generally include: 1) presence in every member of the species, 2) they're automatic and irresistable, 3) elicited by a specific stimulus in the environment, and 4) occur without fail every time the stimulus is presented. So for language to be an "instinct", or specifically a FAP, it needs to meet all of these criteria. Because of arguments for "critical periods" (where if you don't learn something like language you never can) then I think we could be generous and grant option 1 - although I think the evidence for it is much weaker than for any other FAP we know about. Criteria 2, 3 and 4 are basically nonsensical when discussing language though - what stimulus can we possibly think of to elicit language, without fail every time? Arguably initiation of verbal contact might work, if we ignore the fact that it does not meet criteria 2 and 4 by any stretch of the imagination (i.e. me saying "hello" to you does not force you to respond verbally in some way).


This is silly. It is not "nonsensical" to think of exposure to language as eliciting a language-learning response. if you can't see how this might work it is a failure of imagination, not a failure of the theory. The response wouldn't need to be a verbal response to the content of what was said. In fact, speakers of a language do helplessly comprehend everything they hear in their language (if they know all the words and it is said at sufficient volume, properly enunciated, etc.). Try listening to English as a foreign language-- it doesn't work. You're just being contrarian. I don't buy that you are genuinely skeptical.

So I think language as a FAP is not really a valid line of thought. We could try to argue that language might be a new form of "instinctual" behavior, unlike any other we know of, which requires years and years of learning before we grasp the basics and it's not automatic or triggered by any kind of stimulus, and manifests in different ways, forms and topographies... But then every single thing we do is an "instinctual" behavior. Watching tv, reading the paper, learning instruments, driving a car, etc. (And language certainly isn't a reflex either, as those stimulus-response actions are usually just electrical signals that don't even reach the brain. This would make our "language centres" rather redundant)..


Does every culture ever found watch tv and read the paper? And thanks for telling us all what reflexes are. Now we know
how knowledgeable you are and will trust your opinions.

The main structures that are argued to be necessary for language are things like Broca's area and Wernicke's area, both controlling very specific aspects of language. Depending on where the damage is, you can get cases where a patient is still able to understand language but their speech production is messed up - they think they're speaking perfectly normally, but all that's coming out is garbage. You ask a man how he feels today, and he'll say something like, "The lion greened snowflakes" with a pleasant smile on his face. Or you can get people with perfect language and syntax, but who can't understand anything you say to them. Language generally is a global process through, you require multiple (and non-specific) areas of your brain to use it.

The thing that needs to be noted is that these areas aren't solely used for language, they control other functions too. It's speculated that they began as structures to comprehend body language and eventually took on the role of language as we developed it - this supposedly explains why other apes have brain areas which are analogous to Broca's and Wernicke's areas. This is also used as evidence for the Gestural Theory for the origin of language.


Umm... agreed. Forgive me if this passage strikes me the same way as hearing Bible-believers tell you a bunch of facts about the Bible that they know obviously serve to undermine their position and then act as though the fact that they refuse to change their minds is evidence in support of their beliefs. All this is is evidence that you can hold beliefs that contradict reality.

To be fair, I bet you have more scientific value in a single paper than Pinker has in his entire career.. :grin:


Omg, what is your problem with Steven Pinker?
jodiebug
 
Name: Holly
Posts: 60
Age: 29
Female

United States (us)
Print view this post

Re: the "language instinct"

#47  Postby palindnilap » Nov 22, 2010 8:23 pm

:coffee:
palindnilap
RS Donator
 
Posts: 509
Age: 50
Male

Switzerland (ch)
Print view this post

Ads by Google


Re: the "language instinct"

#48  Postby jodiebug » Nov 22, 2010 8:27 pm

Mr.Samsa wrote:Sorry, my explanations have been terrible (a consequence of writing all my posts to you at 4am..). I do know what creole language is, so any confusion in my posts above is due to my seeming inability to explain myself, rather than a misunderstanding of the subject. My knowledge of the area isn't vast, obviously, but I do understand the fundamental concepts. :grin:


What I'm hearing is "I am never wrong-- it only appears that way." It is okay to say you were confused about what a creole is.

In other words, the grammar would work as a kind of "meme" and spread through the community. (Obviously, the concept of "meme" is not very scientific, but the fundamental principles behind it are well-documented and I'm just using the term to get the general idea across as most people understand the basic idea of what a meme is and does).

I also think part of the problem is poor observation. I bet the people who notice the ex nihilo presentation of complex creole language also think that babies just spontaneously start speaking without any previous input or training..


Jesus Christ! katja keeps telling you, these children make a full language out of a pidgin, so the complexity does not come from exposure. Nobody thinks that babies spontaneously start speaking without exposure to speech.

Indeed.. I love the animal language studies, but people always try to rubbish them when they don't understand what's going on. Like one of my favourite studies is one where the experimenters train pigeons to discriminate between grammatical and ungrammatical strings in artificial languages, and they became very good at identifying grammar in novel "sentences" in a very short amount of time. But people look at it and say it's not language because they aren't speaking it, or because they can't write etc. People come up with ridiculous ideas to hold on to silly concepts sometimes.


I think people are constantly undervaluing the intelligence and worth of animals, but it is obvious that they don't have language to the same extent as humans. Family dogs don't pick up the family's language, even if they can learn a remarkable number of words. That said, how does this support your argument?

But it was meant to be a two birds with one stone deal; compliment you and disparage Pinker. :grin:


Good thing Steven Pinker is too famous, important, and respected in his field to ever hear or deign to respond to your insults, because you would be in for it ;)
jodiebug
 
Name: Holly
Posts: 60
Age: 29
Female

United States (us)
Print view this post

Re: the "language instinct"

#49  Postby seeker » Nov 22, 2010 8:47 pm

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:I didn't bother to read this thread, some this point might have already been made, but... evidence for a language instinct:

A problem with all your examples is that they´re not “evidence”, because they´re compatible with many rival hypotheses (and in some cases, they even give more support to those rival hypotheses than to the “language instinct” hypothesis). Think about this example: if a pacient improves when he´s doing an homeopathic treatment, that´s not “evidence” that the homeopathic treatment was responsible of his improvement, because there´re many plausible rival hypotheses (e.g. he improves because of other changes in his life, because of the mere pass of time, etc.).

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:98% of languages are either Subject-Object-Verb or Subject-Verb-Object (i.e., in 98% of languages, the subject precedes the verb) - evidence that language develops as a product of how our brain thinks about things.

Matsumoto has found this percentages in a study of 1800 languages: SOV 50,50%, SVO 36,22%, VSO 10.16%, VOS 2,63%, OVS 0,35%, OSV 0,14%. In fact, this huge variability can be considered negative evidence for “language instinct”, because it´s more supportive of its rival hypothesis (that some orders are more easily learned than others, not because of a “language instinct”, but because of “general learning contraints and capabilities” of our brains, see e.g. Elman et al´s book “Rethinking innateness”).

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:Children are highly likely to make grammatical errors saying things such as "runned" as opposed to the correct "ran." They have never heard "runned" before, but instead can construct new words as opposed to behaviorist theories from the likes of Skinner that we simply acquire language through conditioning of the classical and operational sort.

Those grammatical errors are predicted by a conditioning theory of language: they´re overgeneralizations after learning the coordination frame of verbs and the coordination frame of adding -ed in past verbs. So this is, in fact, positive evidence for a conditioning theory of language.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:There is a "critical period" of sorts, between the ages of 2-7, where language acquisition is extraordinarily rapid, and people who learn languages during this time period (i.e., native speakers) are almost always more adept than people who learn the languages later in life.

This is neutral data: it´s compatible both with a “language instinct” and a “general learning constraints and capabilities” hypotheses.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:fMRI also show that these individuals use different parts of their brain to speak the language. fMRI has also shown that Broca's and Wernicke's areas are active when deaf people sign.

This is neutral data: it´s compatible both with a “language instinct” and a “general learning constraints and capabilities” hypotheses.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:People who are deaf naturally develop their own sign language even if not instructed about developing one. Also, it was African children who developed creole as a language, not adults - showing that, while adults surpass the intellectual capacity of children in almost every area, language is one of those few exceptions where they do not (in fact, I can't think of another one off the top of of my head...).

This is neutral data: it´s compatible both with a “language instinct” and a “general learning constraints and capabilities” hypotheses.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:To me, this says that the ability to acquire language is something innately human - not any particular language, but a simply an ability for a language of some sort.

All the examples you´ve mentioned are either neutral, or more supportive to a rival hypothesis.
seeker
 
Posts: 868

Print view this post

Re: the "language instinct"

#50  Postby jodiebug » Nov 22, 2010 8:47 pm

seeker wrote:I wonder: Is there something that can be rescued from all of Chomsky´s and Pinker´s production?
About Chomsky, it´s clear that he didn´t understand a word of Skinner and behaviorism, that his defense of nativism and mentalism is based on fallacious arguments, and that his "language acquisition device" is a speculation without evidence.
The proposal of universal features of grammar is an interesting issue, but is there some good evidence about this? I would expect to find evidence from a corpus of examples taken from very different languages, but instead of that, I only find some speculative categories taken from a few set of indoeuropean languages (mostly english), and derived from "grammatical judgements" of descontextualized imaginary examples made by the theorist himself (without any empirical study of the diversity shown by language-users in real contexts).


Didn't understand Skinner....?

And the study of linguistics doesn't begin and end with Chomsky, just like the science of evolution has progressed far beyond Darwin's original hypotheses. Darwin, too, had no idea how evolution would physically occur, but he saw evidence that that was what was happening, just as Chomsky saw a pattern that implied a biological basis for language even though he didn't know how it worked in the brain.

I can't help but feel that all this skepticism is really skepticism that the brain is fully responsible for our consciousness and our behaviors. How can you doubt that all social and cultural phenomena ultimately come from our brains, anyway!
jodiebug
 
Name: Holly
Posts: 60
Age: 29
Female

United States (us)
Print view this post

Re: the "language instinct"

#51  Postby jodiebug » Nov 22, 2010 8:52 pm

Seeker, I'm not sure how your "General Learning Constraints and Capabilities" differs from UG. Could you spell it out?
jodiebug
 
Name: Holly
Posts: 60
Age: 29
Female

United States (us)
Print view this post

Re: the "language instinct"

#52  Postby seeker » Nov 22, 2010 9:30 pm

jodiebug wrote:Didn't understand Skinner....?

Yes, Chomsky didn´t understand a word of Skinner. For example, Chomsky criticized “drives”, a construct that Skinner hasn´t used. Chomsky imagines “reinforcement” as something like a voluntary and explicit praise, which is not at all Skinner´s concept of reinforcement. Chomsky even seems to be unaware of what Skinner has explicitly argued in his book (e.g. how novel responses can be generated by recombination of learned components, which is a plausible account of “generativity”). Most people hasn´t read Skinner so they cannot perceive those inaccuracies, but anyone that has studied Skinner can easily find Chomsky´s misunderstandings. There´s no benefit for science in such inaccuracies: any good argument must rely on an accurate description of the hypotheses that are being discussed. I can analyse all those inaccuracies in more detail, if that´s necessary.

jodiebug wrote:And the study of linguistics doesn't begin and end with Chomsky, just like the science of evolution has progressed far beyond Darwin's original hypotheses.

I´ve never said that Chomsky is the begin and end of linguistics. Anyway, Darwin´s theory has grown in evidence since its original proposal. I don´t see such growth in Chomsky´s theory: he has massively changed his theory each decade, but the evidence is still very weak.

jodiebug wrote:I can't help but feel that all this skepticism is really skepticism that the brain is fully responsible for our consciousness and our behaviors. How can you doubt that all social and cultural phenomena ultimately come from our brains, anyway!

Why do you say this? I´ve never said such things. I´m sure that our consciousness and behaviors are generated by our brains and by all the rest of our biological systems, and I´m sure that all social and cultural phenomena are dependent on our brains. But that´s not the same thing than claiming that there´s a “language instinct”.

jodiebug wrote:Seeker, I'm not sure how your "General Learning Constraints and Capabilities" differs from UG. Could you spell it out?

Yes. The “language instinct” hypothesis implies that evolution has selected some specific innate mechanism for language. The rival “general learning” hypothesis is that evolution has selected many different mechanisms of learning that are not specific for language (i.e., they are more general), but whose combination can generate the specific features of language. The “language instinct” hypothesis weakens the burden on learning accounts (there is “less to be learned”) and strengthens the burden on evolutionary accounts (it´s not obvious how complex grammatical features could have been selected). The “general learning” hypothesis weakens the burden on evolutionary accounts (it´s very plausible that general learning mechanisms have been selected) and strengthens the burden on learning accounts (the “general learning” mechanisms must be enough to learn all the complex features of language). (See that "weakening the burden on..." doesn´t imply "denying": nobody has denied that both evolution and learning are a necessary part of an account of language).
I think that the “general learning” hypothesis has stronger evidence (see e.g. Elman et al´s “Rethinking Innateness” and Fiona Cowie´s “What´s Within”), among other things because learning mechanisms of the "general learning" hypothesis are being studied with experimental and observational methods in behavioral sciences, neurosciences, neural network simulations, while the evolutionary accounts of the "language instinct" hypothesis remain mostly speculative.
seeker
 
Posts: 868

Print view this post

Re: the "language instinct"

#53  Postby seeker » Nov 22, 2010 10:16 pm

Zwaarddijk wrote:
Interestingly, some mistakes cannot be accounted for by analogy to observed behaviours (that is, not like 'past tense is formed by -ed, so run -> runned). Placement of negative particles apparently is one of these, where there basically is a hierarchy as to where the negative particle will go in different stages. I don't remember how the hierarchy goes, but nowhere can the child observe the negative particles going there, and it's surprisingly universal for not being observed anywhere outside this context.
I don't remember the details, but something like:
Children first tend to negate by putting the negative particle first, then they go on to putting it before the verb (or something, I seriously don't remember the details), then it progresses through a few more until it settles at the point that the language they are speaking has settled for. If the language does usually negate by an initial the negative particle, the child won't make any obvious mistakes, of course.

We need to know the details of the examples. Anyway, there´re already rival accounts of "structure dependence" without the need of a "language instinct". Chomsky has assumed that the input of a child is not enough to adopt a rule that is dependent on structure instead of a rule that is independent on structure (those “rules” are stated by the researcher, not by the child whose behavior is compatible with a rule). For example, for making a question, the structure-dependent rule is “find the first verb after a nominal phrase, then move it to the beginning of the sentence”, and the structure-independent rule is “find the verb, then move it to the beginning of the sentence”.The sentence “The man can sing” and the question “Can the man sing?” are compatible with both rules, but the sentence “The man who is happy is singing” produces the incorrect question “Is the man who happy is singing?” (independent rule) or the correct question “Is the man who is happy singing?” (dependent rule). Chomsky argues that the independent rule is simpler and that children don´t have input for rejecting the independent rule, so the rejection of the independent rule must be innate. But there´s no evidence of those premises (i.e., that “the independent rule is simpler” and that “children don´t have input for rejecting the independent rule”). On the contrary, there´s evidence that children can learn abstract syntactic classes through general learning mechanisms using the statistical information of the input (Saffran, Aslin & Newport, 1996; Braine, 1971; Wanner & Gleitman 1982; Maratsos, 1982; Read & Schreiber, 1982; Sampson, 1989; Pullum, 1996). If the initial learning is based on frames (sequences in which some elements are fixed and others are variable), then the dependent rule is much simpler: the child learns the frames “X is singing”-“Is X singing?” and the frame “X, who is Y”, and then both frames are combined “Is X, who is Y, singing?”), while it´s less probable a frame like “Is X who Y is singing” (which was never received as input). Also, it´s very implausible that “children don´t have input for rejecting the independent rule”: children hear some hundreds of thousand examples of questions, of which a huge percentage will confirm the dependent rule, and none would confirm the independent rule. Anyway, as far as I know, nobody has empirically studied the distribution of examples of this kind received by a child.
seeker
 
Posts: 868

Print view this post

Re: the "language instinct"

#54  Postby Zwaarddijk » Nov 23, 2010 12:38 am

Again, regarding animals:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1596

(I am looking for things on the various child-language acquisition things that can't be explained by imitation, might take some time - examples where pretty much every child goes through configurations in a set order, configurations that never have been presented to it before progressing through this list.)
Zwaarddijk
 
Posts: 4334
Male

Country: Finland
Finland (fi)
Print view this post

Re: the "language instinct"

#55  Postby UtilityMonster » Nov 23, 2010 12:42 am

seeker wrote:
Yes, Chomsky didn´t understand a word of Skinner. For example, Chomsky criticized “drives”, a construct that Skinner hasn´t used. Chomsky imagines “reinforcement” as something like a voluntary and explicit praise, which is not at all Skinner´s concept of reinforcement. Chomsky even seems to be unaware of what Skinner has explicitly argued in his book (e.g. how novel responses can be generated by recombination of learned components, which is a plausible account of “generativity”). Most people hasn´t read Skinner so they cannot perceive those inaccuracies, but anyone that has studied Skinner can easily find Chomsky´s misunderstandings. There´s no benefit for science in such inaccuracies: any good argument must rely on an accurate description of the hypotheses that are being discussed. I can analyse all those inaccuracies in more detail, if that´s necessary.


Skinner and his behaviorism were crap. Nitpicking a few errors Chomsky might have made does nothing to contribute to our understanding of language, especially when they are in the defense of someone who had a crap theory that has been thoroughly refuted. Ever heard of the 1970s and the cognitive revolution?

seeker wrote:

I´ve never said that Chomsky is the begin and end of linguistics. Anyway, Darwin´s theory has grown in evidence since its original proposal. I don´t see such growth in Chomsky´s theory: he has massively changed his theory each decade, but the evidence is still very weak.


You didn't have to say it. You cite errors Chomsky made as proof against a universal grammar, just like creationists cite errors Darwin made as an argument against evolution. Universal grammar has grown since its inception, and you are arguing not just against Chomsky, but the majority of psychologists and linguists.

Regardless, this debate reminds me of the debate about the function of the fusiform face area. The area responds specifically to faces, but can also respond to other levels of expertise developed visually, such as for professional birdwatchers and car fans when such objects are being examined. Its function is to increase clarity. It is doubly dissociated with general object recognition. The point is not that it can carry over into domains other than faces, but rather that the reason it is there is for face recognition. As with the argument for universal grammar, the reason children are so adept at acquiring language compared to other animals (and compared to learning all other things in general), is because there is a mechanism that evolved for that single purpose. Could it potentially be used for learning something other than language? I don't know - no one has cited anything that uses the same areas of the brains and be acquired as rapidly as language. So, I await for such an example. I would also say that even if such an example were presented, that does not mean the original mechanism is not there with the sole intent of language acquisition.
The question is not, "Can they reason?" nor, "Can they talk?" but rather, "Can they suffer?"
User avatar
UtilityMonster
 
Posts: 1416
Age: 30
Male

Country: United States
United States (us)
Print view this post

Ads by Google


Re: the "language instinct"

#56  Postby UtilityMonster » Nov 23, 2010 12:47 am

Oh yes, and examine William's Syndrome. With this rare disorder, general learning and IQ are greatly impaired, but use of language is not. This tells us that language is not associated with a general ability to learn, but is rather a specific function that is largely dissociated with other forms of general cognitive function.
The question is not, "Can they reason?" nor, "Can they talk?" but rather, "Can they suffer?"
User avatar
UtilityMonster
 
Posts: 1416
Age: 30
Male

Country: United States
United States (us)
Print view this post

Re: the "language instinct"

#57  Postby UtilityMonster » Nov 23, 2010 12:51 am

Zwaarddijk wrote:Again, regarding animals:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1596

(I am looking for things on the various child-language acquisition things that can't be explained by imitation, might take some time - examples where pretty much every child goes through configurations in a set order, configurations that never have been presented to it before progressing through this list.)


I find this weak. This is not evidence that nonhuman animals can potentially (if only they were instructed further!) comprehend language at the level that humans can.

If you weren't intending to present such evidence, what exactly were you trying to show with this link?

If you were... you really aren't going to persuade anyone with that.
The question is not, "Can they reason?" nor, "Can they talk?" but rather, "Can they suffer?"
User avatar
UtilityMonster
 
Posts: 1416
Age: 30
Male

Country: United States
United States (us)
Print view this post

Re: the "language instinct"

#58  Postby Zwaarddijk » Nov 23, 2010 12:58 am

it reflects the consensus view held by linguists pretty well - and the view I support is that no, they can't learn language. A stance some people here won't accept. I figured that the link therefore might count for something.
Zwaarddijk
 
Posts: 4334
Male

Country: Finland
Finland (fi)
Print view this post

Re: the "language instinct"

#59  Postby Mr.Samsa » Nov 23, 2010 1:30 am

Zwaarddijk wrote:I am pretty sure the animal language stuff you posted is pure bunk.

Try a search for animal language on language log ( http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/ ), iirc there should be a fair share of information there.


Thanks for the link, I've been reading Mark Liberman's blog since he started it - I'm not sure which entry you wanted me to focus on? I went back a few years and the only "debunkings" I could find were posts on the Hauser controversy (which is irrelevant, because even if he is innocent, his experiments are pretty poorly conducted anyway), and a discussion of the "p" and "b" sound in Alex the parrot, which again isn't too important.

Zwaarddijk wrote:One thing that friends on another forum pointed out was that studies involving chimps and sign language never had any native sign-language speakers on staff, and those that at some time happened to pass by were far from impressed. (I haven't heard whether they were also far from impressed with the staffs skills as far as sign-language goes.)


Yes the sign language studies of the Gardners with Washoe have been criticised but you have to keep in mind that they didn't have any real prior research to build on. The fact that Washoe could learn and understand a few signs was a great first step - unfortunately, like a lot of animal studies, they don't teach them grammar, so their language is essentially just a series of signs that changes order until they get what they want. In other words, it reaches the same stage that children do before they learn grammar, where they just put words together in whatever order they can to get what they want, but obviously with children we start to explicitly teach them how to use grammar at this point.

If you were interested in the sign aspect of language, then the Yerkish lexigrams are much more interesting - particularly the case of Kanzi who learnt how to communicate through it by watching his mother and having her help him.

Obviously these language studies are fairly old now though, and the advances have come a long way since the 70s and 80s...

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:

They aren't "claims" I've heard, they are research I've read and studied. It's true that animals don't have language at the level we do, but there are obvious reasons for why this is (i.e. our massive culture which provides our children with intensive language training from the moment they are born until they die). Despite this, we still have evidence of animals doing spectacularly well at picking up aspects of language; for example, pigeons understand grammar and successfully discriminate between grammatical and ungrammatical sentences after around 2 months of training. Compare that to children, who still struggle into their teenage years (and often beyond that). We also have other animal feats in this area, like chickadees outperforming humans in their understanding of recursion, apes using vocal or sign language at a meaningful level, parrots and dolphins understanding grammatical order to perform tasks etc.

So if the question is whether animals can use language at the level we do, then the answer is clearly "no". If the question is whether animals can understand and use language, then the answer is clearly "yes". We have so much evidence on this that it really is unarguable at this point, so whilst there are still questions over the details, the one concrete conclusion we can come to is that language definitely isn't a human-only ability.


Wow! I cannot believe you said that! It is so clearly false. Think about it for a minute - children raised in communities together without a common language (or any language) develop their own language and communicate verbally with each other naturally. Animals actively raised from an early age to understand language cannot even come close to the level of human comprehension.


That's because it's an almost impossible thing to test.. The closest example of it being attempted was with the chimpanzee Viki in the 50s, and despite the limitations, the results are fairly encouraging. The problem is that you will never be able to set up a situation where an animal is raised exactly like a child, and have their critical development periods overlap in a meaningful way that has them progress in exactly the same way.

However, you need to remember that we don't need animals to write Shakespeare in order to say that they have language. For example, the fact that animals can use tools is now a well-accepted fact of the world, but this fact isn't refuted by pointing out that chimpanzees haven't built a rocket yet. Differences in degree, not kind.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:This is not something that is "cultural," this is something that almost all psychologists and linguists agree upon is innately human.


Yeah, if you live in the 80s... Science progresses every day, and since the 90s some major studies have come through that have made the existence of animal language undeniable. The same thing that happened with tool-use (i.e. "tool-use is innately human, it's what separates us from the animals!") has now happened with language. We know that animals can use language, and now the studies are focusing on how the differences between how they use it and how we use it. This is why you won't find anyone writing a paper saying, "We've found evidence that animals can use language!" - because everybody will look at them and wonder if they've been living under a rock.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:Humans have much larger and more sophisticated brains than animals do, and we are capable of more abstract thought and better capable of language comprehension and speech production. This is scientific fact.


Arguably true (it's not quite as clear cut as you're making it, but I can accept it as a general truth). But this doesn't affect whether animals can use language or not.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:Seriously - some animals have been trained since babies to speak and comprehend language.


One animal, in the 50s, raised by an average American suburban family. She learnt to vocalise 4 words, despite the fact that chimpanzees and other apes lack the vocal apparatus that makes speech production possible in humans.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:The most adapt are typically birds, as you mentioned (thus clearly suggesting that not all animals are equally capable).


Why do you think birds are the most adept? They're just typically the most studied, it's a sampling bias rather than a biological difference, as far as we know.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:However, if animals could actually produce speech at the level that humans could, they would be doing it now. Dogs live in human households since they are puppies, and hear people speaking all day every day, just as children do, but they do not pick up much other than a few words like "walk" and their name. Some people have spent years upon years training certain animals, and while they have seen some success, they have found animals simply do not have the capacity to speak and comprehend language as well as humans do.


Well obviously, which is why I said: So if the question is whether animals can use language at the level we do, then the answer is clearly "no". But this doesn't change the fact that animals clearly do use language. If you define language as writing Shakespeare, then they don't use language, but nobody who knows what they're taking about would define language so narrowly.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:However, I must say that even the rudimentary understanding of language that some animals possess is exciting!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7ht0a2-OnA[/youtube]


That's definitely very cute, but that has nothing to do with language really. The vocal command is just a discriminative stimulus which determines what the parrot's correct response should be - it's clearly very talented and the owner has done a good job of training him, but if that's what you think I mean when I say animals have language, then I can understand why you're looking at me like I'm crazy.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:Mr. Samsa, I'm also curious what your beef is with Pinker. He is renowned as one of today's leading cognitive psychologists, and has received praise from the Four Horsemen and leading scientists as having contributed hugely to the field of psychology. You don't like him, however. Why?


Renowned as one of today's leading cognitive psychologists?! He's only written a handful of papers and half of them are reviews of his own books (seriously, Google Scholar him). If he were to disappear off the face of the Earth, and everything he'd written was lost too, it would not change cognitive psychology one single bit. Obviously the praise from the Four Horsemen is irrelevant as they aren't in a position to judge his value to science, and I'm not sure what "leading scientists" you're referring to here.

He seems like a nice guy, and I think he did a good job initially of popularising evolutionary psychology. The problem was that he didn't make it clear that a lot of his books are filled with his speculation, rather than hard scientific facts. This isn't too much of a problem because all pop-science books are like this, nobody would buy them if they were filled with "boring" scientific facts - but the issue is that people read his books, think that a "language instinct" is a proven fact of science, and treat me like an idiot for going against what he's said. In other words, I have laymen who have read a pop-science book trying to correct me and others educated in this field. It's frustrating to say the least, and Pinker is my outlet.

jodiebug wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:When I referred to creole as "simplifying it and making it easy to understand" I was specifically talking about grammar - however, looking back at my sentence I worded that terribly. I meant to indicate that by devising a simple form of grammar, it simplified a lot of their conversation and made things easier to understand; simplified in the sense that there was a structure and rule to follow in order to convey specific information. Of course creole languages are more complex than pidgin, but the grammar used in creole is pretty simple.


I think you were just mistaken about what the argument entailed and the difference between a pidgin and a creole. creoles are full languages, and there is no meaningful difference in "complexity" of grammar between full languages. It is fully capable of expressing the social reality of the group-- once a language meets that requirement, it doesn't matter how many rules it has or how complicated it would be for a nonnative speaker to learn.


No I understand the difference, my point was that the creation of a creole language simplified communication between people.

jodiebug wrote:It sounds like all you have read on this issue is opposition (kind of like your views on Evolutionary Psychology...).


I don't understand what you mean, I think evolutionary psychology is a hugely interesting field which is why I dedicated a large chunk of my degree towards it... I'm critical of bad evolutionary psychology though.

jodiebug wrote:What do you have to say about Nicaraguan sign language? Those kids used an entirely different medium for language when given the elements of speech through lip-reading. The first generation of children to use it had an incomplete system of communication, but it became a full language once their children had been raised with it. What is your cultural explanation for that?


My line of thinking agrees with Katja's expert opinion:

Add to that that deaf children live in a social setting which is completely moulded by language. Human social interactions presuppose language, and it is this state of affairs they are born into. They can observe symbolic communication going on all the time all around them, and people (beginning with their parents) trying to communicate with them in other ways, in order to compensate for their inability to use spoken language (which is why, in the absence of a standard signing language, any family with a deaf member will develop a limited set of signs to manage everyday communication - it is these diverse sets that the Nicaraguan deaf community, which is probably what you had in mind, used to base their sign language on).

Also, see my yesterday's post where I touch upon the pidgin-creole cycle. I think I read some very good criticism of this hypothesis (which I had presented myself in the OP) in Louis-Jean Calvet, an excellent sociolinguist (my favourite, in fact). If you're interested and can read French, I'll try to remember which book it was.


jodiebug wrote:
Complex behaviors can easily come about through evolution (just look at the wasp that controls the mind of it's prey and rides it back to it's nest to lay eggs in it) and it is feasible that something like language could develop in an organism through means like this, but the problem is that it is completely unlike any other innate behavior we have. For example, if language were a FAP then it needs to meet the criteria of FAPs which generally include: 1) presence in every member of the species, 2) they're automatic and irresistable, 3) elicited by a specific stimulus in the environment, and 4) occur without fail every time the stimulus is presented. So for language to be an "instinct", or specifically a FAP, it needs to meet all of these criteria. Because of arguments for "critical periods" (where if you don't learn something like language you never can) then I think we could be generous and grant option 1 - although I think the evidence for it is much weaker than for any other FAP we know about. Criteria 2, 3 and 4 are basically nonsensical when discussing language though - what stimulus can we possibly think of to elicit language, without fail every time? Arguably initiation of verbal contact might work, if we ignore the fact that it does not meet criteria 2 and 4 by any stretch of the imagination (i.e. me saying "hello" to you does not force you to respond verbally in some way).


This is silly. It is not "nonsensical" to think of exposure to language as eliciting a language-learning response. if you can't see how this might work it is a failure of imagination, not a failure of the theory. The response wouldn't need to be a verbal response to the content of what was said. In fact, speakers of a language do helplessly comprehend everything they hear in their language (if they know all the words and it is said at sufficient volume, properly enunciated, etc.). Try listening to English as a foreign language-- it doesn't work. You're just being contrarian. I don't buy that you are genuinely skeptical.


I don't understand your skepticism of my skepticism, and frankly I'm rather skeptical of your skepticism.

A "language-learning response"? This is getting pretty abstract now. What you're basically arguing for is a basic predisposition toward learning language (which implicitly agrees with my arguments above that language doesn't fit the criteria for FAPs), and in which case your position is difficult to argue against. However, it needs to be pointed out that your suggestion is unfalsifiable, therefore unscientific, and even if we accept it as true, it is so far from a "language instinct" that it would not affect my position at all.

Given the salience of language use and the undeniable power it has to help an individual control his world, it makes sense that a baby would pay attention to it. Everything it does or feels is immediately presented in conjunction with some verbal response. A baby would have to be braindead not to make a connection between the two. In which case no "biological predisposition" is necessary, as the connection is an environmental predisposition.

jodiebug wrote:
So I think language as a FAP is not really a valid line of thought. We could try to argue that language might be a new form of "instinctual" behavior, unlike any other we know of, which requires years and years of learning before we grasp the basics and it's not automatic or triggered by any kind of stimulus, and manifests in different ways, forms and topographies... But then every single thing we do is an "instinctual" behavior. Watching tv, reading the paper, learning instruments, driving a car, etc. (And language certainly isn't a reflex either, as those stimulus-response actions are usually just electrical signals that don't even reach the brain. This would make our "language centres" rather redundant)..


Does every culture ever found watch tv and read the paper?


No, but every individual in a culture learns, which was the point. But you should be careful not to conflate "universality" with "innate". The two can be linked, however just because something is universal doesn't mean that it's innate. A simple logical fact which I'm sure you knew, but I thought I'd just make it explicitly clear.

jodiebug wrote:And thanks for telling us all what reflexes are. Now we know how knowledgeable you are and will trust your opinions.


Oh, meow!

jodiebug wrote:
The main structures that are argued to be necessary for language are things like Broca's area and Wernicke's area, both controlling very specific aspects of language. Depending on where the damage is, you can get cases where a patient is still able to understand language but their speech production is messed up - they think they're speaking perfectly normally, but all that's coming out is garbage. You ask a man how he feels today, and he'll say something like, "The lion greened snowflakes" with a pleasant smile on his face. Or you can get people with perfect language and syntax, but who can't understand anything you say to them. Language generally is a global process through, you require multiple (and non-specific) areas of your brain to use it.

The thing that needs to be noted is that these areas aren't solely used for language, they control other functions too. It's speculated that they began as structures to comprehend body language and eventually took on the role of language as we developed it - this supposedly explains why other apes have brain areas which are analogous to Broca's and Wernicke's areas. This is also used as evidence for the Gestural Theory for the origin of language.


Umm... agreed. Forgive me if this passage strikes me the same way as hearing Bible-believers tell you a bunch of facts about the Bible that they know obviously serve to undermine their position and then act as though the fact that they refuse to change their minds is evidence in support of their beliefs. All this is is evidence that you can hold beliefs that contradict reality.


I don't understand your point. Obviously we have parts of our brain that process language. Do you think that people who don't think language is an instinct think that some other organ controls language use? Or that people who don't think it's an instinct deny that there are biological structures which can aid language?

jodiebug wrote:
To be fair, I bet you have more scientific value in a single paper than Pinker has in his entire career.. :grin:


Omg, what is your problem with Steven Pinker?


Nothing in particular, I just prefer real scientists.

jodiebug wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:Sorry, my explanations have been terrible (a consequence of writing all my posts to you at 4am..). I do know what creole language is, so any confusion in my posts above is due to my seeming inability to explain myself, rather than a misunderstanding of the subject. My knowledge of the area isn't vast, obviously, but I do understand the fundamental concepts. :grin:


What I'm hearing is "I am never wrong-- it only appears that way." It is okay to say you were confused about what a creole is.


Or I understand the distinction and failed to explain my point clearly? What would be the point of lying about something like that? Katja has corrected me on a number of things in the past, and I have no problem admitting I'm wrong, but obviously I'm not going to pretend I was confused when I made a mistake.

jodiebug wrote:
In other words, the grammar would work as a kind of "meme" and spread through the community. (Obviously, the concept of "meme" is not very scientific, but the fundamental principles behind it are well-documented and I'm just using the term to get the general idea across as most people understand the basic idea of what a meme is and does).

I also think part of the problem is poor observation. I bet the people who notice the ex nihilo presentation of complex creole language also think that babies just spontaneously start speaking without any previous input or training..


Jesus Christ! katja keeps telling you, these children make a full language out of a pidgin, so the complexity does not come from exposure. Nobody thinks that babies spontaneously start speaking without exposure to speech.


I don't see how your point relates to what I've said.

Kids have pidgin, some string it together in ways that are more coherent and are easier to verbalise than others. This trend spreads throughout the population. The language does come from exposure to other pidgin users, so surely you're not denying that. I can't figure out what your point is.

And yes of course nobody thinks that babies spontaneously start speaking without exposure to speech, that wasn't my point - my point was that some people think that babies spontaneously start speaking without exposure to training. The latter is the ridiculous claim that isn't true, but it's just that people's observations are poor and they misunderstand what constitutes "training".

jodiebug wrote:
Indeed.. I love the animal language studies, but people always try to rubbish them when they don't understand what's going on. Like one of my favourite studies is one where the experimenters train pigeons to discriminate between grammatical and ungrammatical strings in artificial languages, and they became very good at identifying grammar in novel "sentences" in a very short amount of time. But people look at it and say it's not language because they aren't speaking it, or because they can't write etc. People come up with ridiculous ideas to hold on to silly concepts sometimes.


I think people are constantly undervaluing the intelligence and worth of animals, but it is obvious that they don't have language to the same extent as humans. Family dogs don't pick up the family's language, even if they can learn a remarkable number of words. That said, how does this support your argument?


Obviously animals don't have language to the same extent as humans, I don't think anyone would argue that. How does it support my argument? Well language has been learnt by a range of different animals from various evolutionary lineages who have varying different brain structures. Despite all of this, the extent to which they can pick up language appears to be dependent on environmental factors and training.

jodiebug wrote:
But it was meant to be a two birds with one stone deal; compliment you and disparage Pinker. :grin:


Good thing Steven Pinker is too famous, important, and respected in his field to ever hear or deign to respond to your insults, because you would be in for it ;)


If he came after me for my random comments on the internet, I'd ask him why he doesn't deal with the scientific criticisms of his work first before scanning internet fora...

jodiebug wrote:
seeker wrote:I wonder: Is there something that can be rescued from all of Chomsky´s and Pinker´s production?
About Chomsky, it´s clear that he didn´t understand a word of Skinner and behaviorism, that his defense of nativism and mentalism is based on fallacious arguments, and that his "language acquisition device" is a speculation without evidence.
The proposal of universal features of grammar is an interesting issue, but is there some good evidence about this? I would expect to find evidence from a corpus of examples taken from very different languages, but instead of that, I only find some speculative categories taken from a few set of indoeuropean languages (mostly english), and derived from "grammatical judgements" of descontextualized imaginary examples made by the theorist himself (without any empirical study of the diversity shown by language-users in real contexts).


Didn't understand Skinner....?


Of course he didn't understand Skinner. Haven't you read Chomsky's review of Verbal Behavior? Anybody who is vaguely interested in language research knows how poorly researched that article was.

jodiebug wrote:I can't help but feel that all this skepticism is really skepticism that the brain is fully responsible for our consciousness and our behaviors. How can you doubt that all social and cultural phenomena ultimately come from our brains, anyway!


I have a feeling you misunderstand what the debate is about. Of course all behavior comes from the brain, but this doesn't mean all behavior is innate. All brains come from genes, but that doesn't mean all behaviors produced by brains are genetic. There are different levels of analysis, and distinctions are there for a reason. So, theoretically, we could say that "learning" itself is an instinct, or an innate behavior, but it's meaningless. It adds nothing to our understanding of behavior or human interaction.

Zwaarddijk wrote:Again, regarding animals:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1596


I commented on this above, but Hauser's work is under a lot of scrutiny right now. It's irrelevant though as his studies were shit anyway.

Zwaarddijk wrote:(I am looking for things on the various child-language acquisition things that can't be explained by imitation, might take some time - examples where pretty much every child goes through configurations in a set order, configurations that never have been presented to it before progressing through this list.)


What theory requires language acquisition to be explained by imitation? :scratch:

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:
seeker wrote:
Yes, Chomsky didn´t understand a word of Skinner. For example, Chomsky criticized “drives”, a construct that Skinner hasn´t used. Chomsky imagines “reinforcement” as something like a voluntary and explicit praise, which is not at all Skinner´s concept of reinforcement. Chomsky even seems to be unaware of what Skinner has explicitly argued in his book (e.g. how novel responses can be generated by recombination of learned components, which is a plausible account of “generativity”). Most people hasn´t read Skinner so they cannot perceive those inaccuracies, but anyone that has studied Skinner can easily find Chomsky´s misunderstandings. There´s no benefit for science in such inaccuracies: any good argument must rely on an accurate description of the hypotheses that are being discussed. I can analyse all those inaccuracies in more detail, if that´s necessary.


Skinner and his behaviorism were crap. Nitpicking a few errors Chomsky might have made does nothing to contribute to our understanding of language, especially when they are in the defense of someone who had a crap theory that has been thoroughly refuted. Ever heard of the 1970s and the cognitive revolution?


:doh:

Millsian, you've severely misunderstood not only history, but modern psychology. I seriously don't know where to start.

1) Saying something is "crap" is not really an argument. You need to explain why your opinion of one of the most rigorous fields of psychology is "crap".
2) A "few errors"? Read Chomsky's review of Verbal Behavior, and then at least read the wikipedia page on Skinner. Chomsky did not make a single valid point in his whole review - for 2/3rds of it he was attacking stimulus-response psychology which had nothing to do with Skinner!
3) The cognitive revolution? You mean cognitive psychology which is an extension of behaviorism and uses behavioral principles in order to do its research? Yes.. You might be interested in this article by a cognitive psychologist.
Image
Mr.Samsa
 
Posts: 11370
Age: 35

Print view this post

Re: the "language instinct"

#60  Postby seeker » Nov 23, 2010 2:22 am

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:Skinner and his behaviorism were crap.

That´s not an argument. Let´s avoid the ad hominem fallacies, please.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:Nitpicking a few errors Chomsky might have made does nothing to contribute to our understanding of language, especially when they are in the defense of someone who had a crap theory that has been thoroughly refuted. Ever heard of the 1970s and the cognitive revolution?

Skinner´s theory has not been refuted, you can find a lot of recent work about operant theory in behavior analysis, cognitive science, and neuroscience.
Cognitive psychology was more an “evolution” than a “revolution”: it emerged after a period of rapid but continuous and nonrevolutionary change. It is still a kind of methodological behaviorism, and it accepts all behaviorist tenets (e.g. psychology´s source of evidence is the observation of behavior, introspection and private thinking are covert behaviors). Cognitive psychology improves some previous more simplistic versions of behaviorism (e.g., stimulus-response psychology), but also Skinner´s behaviorism improves such early versions. You can read Leahey (possibly the most known historian of psychology) on this issue in “The mythical revolutions of american psychology”: http://tinyurl.com/2vmuvfl

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:
seeker wrote:I´ve never said that Chomsky is the begin and end of linguistics. Anyway, Darwin´s theory has grown in evidence since its original proposal. I don´t see such growth in Chomsky´s theory: he has massively changed his theory each decade, but the evidence is still very weak.


You didn't have to say it. You cite errors Chomsky made as proof against a universal grammar, just like creationists cite errors Darwin made as an argument against evolution. Universal grammar has grown since its inception, and you are arguing not just against Chomsky, but the majority of psychologists and linguists.

Despite your insistence on this analogy, the situation is very different. There´s a strong consensus in biology about Darwin´s theory, while there´s no consensus in cognitive and behavioral sciences about Chomsky´s theory. See for example:
Evans & Levinson. (2009). The myth of language universals: Language diversity and its importance for cognitive science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 32, no5, pp. 429-448.
Tomasello. (1995). Language is not an instinct. Cognitive development.
Tomasello. (2005). Constructing a language: A usage-based theory of language acquisition.
Elman et al. (1997). Rethinking innateness.
Cowie. (2003). What's within?: nativism reconsidered.
By the way, all the recent work in the field of "cognitive linguistics" is characterized by its adherence to three claims which are opposite to Chomsky´s generative linguistics: it denies that there is an autonomous linguistic faculty in the mind; it understands grammar in terms of conceptualization, and it claims that knowledge of language arises out of language use. See:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_linguistics

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:As with the argument for universal grammar, the reason children are so adept at acquiring language compared to other animals (and compared to learning all other things in general), is because there is a mechanism that evolved for that single purpose.

Is that just a statement of faith? There´s no strong evidence to claim that “it´s a mechanism that evolved for that single purpose”, and there´s a lot of empirical support for the rival account (see the previous references).

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:Could it potentially be used for learning something other than language? I don't know - no one has cited anything that uses the same areas of the brains and be acquired as rapidly as language. So, I await for such an example. I would also say that even if such an example were presented, that does not mean the original mechanism is not there with the sole intent of language acquisition.

You´re putting the burden of proof in the skeptic. That´s how religions work, not science. In science, proponents must show evidence that support their claims, while skeptics don´t need to show evidence to support their lack of belief.
Last edited by seeker on Nov 23, 2010 3:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
seeker
 
Posts: 868

Print view this post

PreviousNext

Return to Linguistics

Who is online

Users viewing this topic: No registered users and 1 guest