the "language instinct"

Discuss various aspects of natural language.

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Re: the "language instinct"

#61  Postby UtilityMonster » Nov 23, 2010 3:08 am

Thanks for responding, Mr. Samsa.

Mr.Samsa wrote:
MillsianUtilitarian wrote:

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.


Children do not need to be raised "like a child" in order to develop language. They do not need to even be exposed to language. Therefore, if animals have the same capacity for language, then they would not need constant instruction. You made an earlier claim that animals cannot communicate verbally with the same sophistication because they do not live in a culture that has language like humans do. That is false.

Mr.Samsa wrote:
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.


I agree! But, certain things need to be pointed out.
1. Only a few animals can use tools.
2. Only a few animals can communicate with sophistication.
3. Nonhuman animals having a rudimentary ability to communicate is not an argument against humans having a unique language instinct, or a unique capacity for language. In fact, it is an argument for a human language instinct.

Mr.Samsa wrote:
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.


I mean that the use of language as sophisticated as human language is exclusive to humans. :lol: I do agree that people erred in both suggesting that tool use and communication were uniquely human. We can say with near certainty, however, that the ability to rapidly acquire, comprehend, and produce sophisticated language is exclusively seen in humans.

Mr.Samsa wrote:
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.


It isn't clear cut? How so? Perhaps I should clarify that the body size - brain size is probably more important. But, brain sophistication affects the capacity with which animals can use language. With more specialized neural development, more specialization in the related area is possible. If humans can produce language, while mice can't, humans could potentially have an evolutionary drive to develop the capacity to comprehend and produce language, whereas mice wouldn't because it would serve no evolutionary purpose.
Image
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Mr.Samsa wrote:
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.


Be careful when making claims like that, because all it takes is me to cite one other example to prove you wrong. So, take Kanzi, a bonobo raised since infancy to speak and comprehend language.

Also, take a look at Alex:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yGOgs_UlEc[/youtube]

Mr.Samsa wrote:
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.


They are more studied because they show a higher capacity for language.

Mr.Samsa wrote:
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.


I'm glad we agree about this. You agree that animals cannot use language as well as humans, and I agree that some animals can communicate. However, you were the one that said animals do not communicate as well because they are not raised in environments that foster developing sophisticated language.

Mr.Samsa wrote: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).


Mr.Samsa wrote:
[Pinker] 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.


Well, he was a professor of psychology at MIT and is currently one at Harvard. That says something about him (unless you think those institutions hire only average professors). Plus, you could say that if any single individual disappeared from the face of the Earth, with exception of perhaps Einstein, then it would not matter at all. All theories that are true are eventually picked up, and if one potential spokesperson is not able to spread the word, then another will surely take his place. It is true that the Four Horsemen's opinions aren't that important, I'll concede that. I really was just throwing them out there because I respect them, and I doubt they would be genuinely confused about his contributions to psychology, but perhaps that is the case.

Mr.Samsa wrote:
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.


In his new edition of How the Mind Works (2009), in his introduction he said that only a few things needed changing, which overall says that he is quite proud of the predictive quality of the book. And yes, his books, like most, focus on interesting subject matter, but he has done a lot of original work on original questions. Some of them are in HTMW, others I am sure are present in his other books. He isn't like Bill Bryson, who just takes interesting common knowledge and regurgitates it in a way that is accessible and interesting. Also, many who are highly educated in psychology buy into the theory of universal grammar - I haven't met a single member of the psychology faculty at Vanderbilt who does not. So, I think it is unfair to characterize the argument as being the educated psychological elite versus those who follow Pinker's work like the religious who believe in the Bible.

Mr.Samsa wrote:
: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.


1) I know, and that was not an attempt at an argument. If I were to take a brief jab at behaviorism, the idea that the mind is a "black box" that cannot and should not be analyzed is bogus, and has been thoroughly rejected.
2) How does stimulus-response psychology have nothing to do with Skinner? It is critical to behaviorism.
3) Cognitive psychology uses some behaviorist principles to do some of its research. Behaviorism is not complete crap, and some useful knowledge arose from it, but by and large it is. Any experiment that attempts to analyze a cognitive function, however, violates behaviorist principles. Thus cognitive psychology is diametrically opposed to behaviorism - the two are incompatible. Behaviorism is obsolete.

Anyway, I'm enjoying the discussion, but don't feel like you have to respond to all of my points if you are pressed for time. :thumbup:

Edit: messed up the quoting mechanism.
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Re: the "language instinct"

#62  Postby UtilityMonster » Nov 23, 2010 3:19 am

seeker wrote:
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.


What? Absolutely not.

There are clear evolutionary drives for the development of language. If there weren't, it wouldn't have evolved. You are the one claiming that language is merely a facet of the general learning mechanism in the brain. I am the skeptic, saying that until you demonstrate another skill that is acquired in a manner similar to language (i.e. rapidly, doubly dissociated with other learning abilities), or that uses the same parts of the brain as language, I am unconvinced that your argument is true. Even then, that likely just took advantage of the tools for language acquisition that were already there.
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Re: the "language instinct"

#63  Postby seeker » Nov 23, 2010 4:11 am

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:1) I know, and that was not an attempt at an argument. If I were to take a brief jab at behaviorism, the idea that the mind is a "black box" that cannot and should not be analyzed is bogus, and has been thoroughly rejected.

You´re oversimplifying this issue. There´re many proposals that were called “behaviorism” in the history of psychology (see O'Donohue & Kitchener´s “Handbook of Behaviorism” for a detailed analysis). Each behaviorism is defined by (1) which cases are included and excluded of the term “behavior”, (2) what´s exactly the claim of each behaviorist about those included and excluded cases, (3) which are the arguments proposed by each behaviorist to support such claim.
Some of the answers to the first question have been: (1) Include external peripheric activities (publicly observed), exclude internal physiological events (observed only with special instruments, or indirectly inferred from other observations, or privately introspected), (2) Include publicly observed activities (peripheral and internal), exclude privately introspected activities, (3) Include ocurrent activities/events (publicly observed or indirectly inferred or privately introspected), exclude invented constructs of dubious reference (e.g “superego”), (4) Include ocurrent activities/events, exclude dispositional terms and summary labels (e.g. “memory”, “memorize”), (5) Include the functional description of relations between activities and context, exclude the merely physical descriptions of the activities.
Some of the answers to the second question have been: (1) excluded cases don´t exist (ontological denial), (2) excluded cases cannot be reliably known with our current methods (epistemic skepticism), (3) included cases are more reliable than excluded cases (methodological preference), (4) words presumed to refer to excluded cases can be reduced to references to included cases (semantic reductionism), (5) words presumed to refer to excluded cases are based on references to included cases (semantic clarification without reduction), etc.
Regarding the black box methodology, nobody has ever said that “the brain cannot and should not be analyzed”. Instead, the proponents of black box methodology (e.g. Watson) have said that behavioral research must study overt stimuli and responses without a wild speculation of internal mechanisms, that neural mechanisms must be studied with rigurous methodology instead of wild speculation, and that both approaches must then be integrated. Take in consideration that, at the time it was proposed, there was much more wild speculation than actual data, so the black box methodology was actually a plea for parsimony in psychological research, not a rejection of neural research, and it was a very reasonable proposal for those times.
Anyway, Skinner was not a proponent of black box methodology. Skinner wrote about this issue: “The organism is, of course, not empty, and it cannot be adequately treated simply as a black box, but we must carefully distinguish between what is known about what is inside and what is merely inferred” (Skinner, 1974, 233), “The physiologist of the future will tell us all that can be known about what is happening inside the behaving organism. His account will be an important advance over a behavior analysis, because the latter is necessarily “historical”–that is to say, it is confined to functional relations showing temporal gaps. Something is done today which affects the behavior of the organism tomorrow. No matter how clearly that fact can be established, a step is missing, and we must wait for the physiologist to supply it. He will be able to show how an organism is changed when exposed to contingencies of reinforcement and why the changed organism then behaves in a different way, possibly at a much later date. What he discovers cannot invalidate the laws of a science of behavior, but it will make the picture of human action more nearly complete.” (Skinner 1974, 236-237).
See also:
Gaynor. Skepticism of caricatures. BF Skinner turns 100. (about some misunderstandings about Skinner). Skeptical Inquirer.
http://www.4shared.com/document/Dh6KPom ... tures.html
Donahoe. Behavior analysis and neuroscience (about a recent integration of Skinner´s operant theory and actual neuroscientific research). Behavioral Processes
http://www.4shared.com/document/xlyN11F ... encia.html

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:2) How does stimulus-response psychology have nothing to do with Skinner? It is critical to behaviorism.

The name “stimulus-response psychology” is used for earlier versions of behaviorism (e.g. Watson) that relied on very simple pavlovian accounts in which the same stimulus evoked always the same response: S→R. Skinner´s operant theory is different, because it adds a third term (the consequence) that strenghens or weakens the evocative link, and also a fourth term (the motivating operation) that modulates the discriminative effect of the stimulus. While stimulus-response psychology proposes an associationist account, Skinner´s operant theory proposes a selectionist account (response variation, selection by consequence, and retention of the selected repertory because of the neural changes). By the way, actual neural network models include both stimulus-response psychology (in the hebbian learning equation) and Skinner´s operant theory (in the reinforcement learning equation).

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:3) Cognitive psychology uses some behaviorist principles to do some of its research.

No, cognitive psychology is methodological behaviorism, without exception.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:Behaviorism is not complete crap, and some useful knowledge arose from it, but by and large it is. Any experiment that attempts to analyze a cognitive function, however, violates behaviorist principles.

No, not at all. Any experiment that attempts to analyze a cognitive function must use the methodological behaviorist principle: “study overt behavior in order to test your hypothesis”. The other option would be an unfortunate return to the endless debates of decimononic introspectivism.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:Thus cognitive psychology is diametrically opposed to behaviorism - the two are incompatible. Behaviorism is obsolete.

You´re confusing methodological behaviorism with stimulus-response psychology. It could be argued that cognitive psychology opposes stimulus-response psychology, but it doesn´t oppose skinnerian behaviorism, or methodological behaviorism.
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Re: the "language instinct"

#64  Postby seeker » Nov 23, 2010 4:41 am

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:
seeker wrote:
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.


What? Absolutely not.

There are clear evolutionary drives for the development of language. If there weren't, it wouldn't have evolved.

This is not true: a phenotypic characteristic may be a byproduct of the evolution of some other character, rather than a direct product of adaptive selection. That´s what´s called a “spandrel”:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spandrel_(biology)

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:You are the one claiming that language is merely a facet of the general learning mechanism in the brain. I am the skeptic, saying that until you demonstrate another skill that is acquired in a manner similar to language (i.e. rapidly, doubly dissociated with other learning abilities), or that uses the same parts of the brain as language, I am unconvinced that your argument is true. Even then, that likely just took advantage of the tools for language acquisition that were already there.

Well, both you and I are both defending one thesis and being skeptic of the other (regarding the two rival accounts: the “language instinct” hypothesis and the “general learning” hypothesis). You have the burden of convincing skeptics of the “language instinct” hypothesis (while I don´t have to defend my skeptic stance), and I have the burden of convincing skeptics of the “general learning” hypothesis (while you don´t have to defend your skeptic stance). The default position is an agnosticism regarding both accounts. You can find lots of evidence in the references I gave you. I can transcribe it here, but it will take me a lot of time, so perhaps it´s better that you take a look on the references yourself (Elman and Tomasello could be a good starting point, for example, look at Elman´s negative evidence for representational constraints and positive evidence for architectural constraints in the chapters 1, 3, and 7).
http://books.google.com.ar/books?id=K-b5Dl3MJR4C&printsec=frontcover&dq=tomasello&hl=es&ei=K03rTOWyC8Wt8AaNgOmXAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false
http://books.google.com.ar/books?id=vELaRu_MrwoC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Rethinking+innateness:+a+connectionist+perspective+on+development&hl=es&ei=H03rTPmRKMys8AbAueGfAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false
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Re: the "language instinct"

#65  Postby Mr.Samsa » Nov 23, 2010 4:43 am

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:Children do not need to be raised "like a child" in order to develop language. They do not need to even be exposed to language. Therefore, if animals have the same capacity for language, then they would not need constant instruction. You made an earlier claim that animals cannot communicate verbally with the same sophistication because they do not live in a culture that has language like humans do. That is false.


You don't think children need to be exposed to language in order to develop it? You understand that "exposure to language" in this instance refers to being in a culture where using some form of "language", or adaptive gesture/vocal system, to communicate is an advantage, right?

If children are not exposed to language before the age of about 7, then they can never learn it..

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:
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.


I agree! But, certain things need to be pointed out.
1. Only a few animals can use tools.
2. Only a few animals can communicate with sophistication.
3. Nonhuman animals having a rudimentary ability to communicate is not an argument against humans having a unique language instinct, or a unique capacity for language. In fact, it is an argument for a human language instinct.


I agree with the above, except for your claim that animal language is an argument for a human language instinct. I don't understand that?

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:I mean that the use of language as or more sophisticated as human language is exclusive to humans. :lol: I do agree that people erred in both suggesting that tool use and communication were uniquely human. We can say with near certainty, however, that the ability to rapidly acquire, comprehend, and produce sophisticated language is exclusively seen in humans.


Well yes, sure, in the same way rocket building is exclusively seen in humans. This doesn't tell us anything about the differences between species though.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:
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.


It isn't clear cut? How so? Perhaps I should clarify that the body size - brain size is probably more important. But, brain sophistication affects the capacity with which animals can use language. With more specialized neural development, more specialization in the related area is possible. If humans can produce language, while mice can't, humans could potentially have an evolutionary drive to develop the capacity to comprehend and produce language, whereas mice wouldn't because it would serve no evolutionary purpose.


My point was just that "larger" brains aren't necessarily indicative of anything, and in some tests of abstract thought there are no significant differences between humans and other animals. Like I said, I do accept that it is generally true, it's just a more complex issue than the way you've presented it (which is fine since you weren't trying to make an argument for those points).

Also, be careful with how you use the encephalisation quotient, it's a pretty poor measure of cognitive ability. I know you weren't necessarily using it in that sense, but since you know enough to be able to reference it I thought I'd point it out in case you were interested. According to the EQ, the shrew is by far the most intelligent species on the planet. ;)

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:
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.


Be careful when making claims like that, because all it takes is me to cite one other example to prove you wrong. So, take Kanzi, a bonobo raised since infancy to speak and comprehend language.

Also, take a look at Alex:


Which part are you disproving? Viki is the only animal that was raised from birth like a human (which is what I thought your point was). I know that other animals have undergone training and testing since they were born, but even Kanzi or Alex (both of who I mentioned earlier :grin: ) have not received anywhere near as much training in language as a human child does. (I assume you had no problem with the claim of other apes lacking the vocal apparatus to form words, right?).

To compare how humans are raised and how animals are trained in language, you'd have to literally raise them as if they were your child, like they did with Viki. The problem is that the parents obviously didn't treat her like their child, because she was a big hairy ape..

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:
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.


They are more studied because they show a higher capacity for language.


Hmm.. in some cases. Mostly it's because they are the easiest and cheapest animals to perform experiments on. Birds and rats. Everything else is a bitch to deal with.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:
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.


I'm glad we agree about this. You agree that animals cannot use language as well as humans, and I agree that some animals can communicate. However, you were the one that said animals do not communicate as well because they are not raised in environments that foster developing sophisticated language.


Not entirely an accurate description of my position. I think that most likely, if we could raise animals in the same culture and environment as human children, we would find the language gap narrow significantly. However, I don't think it will close completely as we do have advantages over other animals in language use. My point was that a lot of our language ability comes from the culture we're raised in (combined with the physical components that help with language production), rather than a "language instinct".

In other words, I'm not saying that if you raise a baby rat like a child then by the time it's 8 it will be reciting its favourite Dr Suess story. But a lot of what we find so amazing about human language; the rapidity with which it's formed, it's "spontaneous" development in deaf children, our development of grammatical rules at certain ages, etc are necessarily facilitated and developed through our massive culture which has made language so essential to survival that language development is practically inevitable in every capable individual.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:
[Pinker] 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.


Well, he was a professor of psychology at MIT and is currently one at Harvard. That says something about him (unless you think those institutions hire only average professors). Plus, you could say that if any single individual disappeared from the face of the Earth, with exception of perhaps Einstein, then it would not matter at all. All theories that are true are eventually picked up, and if one potential spokesperson is not able to spread the word, then another will surely take his place. It is true that the Four Horsemen's opinions aren't that important, I'll concede that. I really was just throwing them out there because I respect them, and I doubt they would be genuinely confused about his contributions to psychology, but perhaps that is the case.


He could be a brilliant teacher for all I know, and that's how he got his position? His scientific work, however, doesn't not stand on its own. It's practically non-existent. And obviously saying that him popping out of existence would have no effect at all was an exaggeration - I'm sure he may have had small effects that led to greater ones, like maybe he inspired some great scientist that would not have happened without him. But my point was that he's added absolutely nothing to our understanding of cognitive psychology. Off the top of my head I could probably name 50 or so psychologists who, if their work was destroyed, would set back science by at least a decade. With Pinker though, I cannot see anything that we would lose by his non-existence (in regards to science).

And that's fine if you respect the Four Horsemen, but given the general ignorance of psychology in the average population, I wouldn't take their opinion on the matter too seriously.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:
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.


In his new edition of How the Mind Works (2009), in his introduction he said that only a few things needed changing, which overall says that he is quite proud of the predictive quality of the book. And yes, his books, like most, focus on interesting subject matter, but he has done a lot of original work on original questions. Some of them are in HTMW, others I am sure are present in his other books. He isn't like Bill Bryson, who just takes interesting common knowledge and regurgitates it in a way that is accessible and interesting.


"He said that only a few things needed changing"... in his opinion...

The problem with pop-science books is that they only give you the perspective of the author. They aren't peer-reviewed, they can say whatever they like, no matter how flimsy or non-existent the evidence is for that particular idea. I cannot remember the last psychology paper I read, or the last conference seminar I've been to, where the author/presenter has even mentioned Pinker's name or any of the ideas that he advocates in his books. They really are that insignificant to psychology.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:Also, many who are highly educated in psychology buy into the theory of universal grammar - I haven't met a single member of the psychology faculty at Vanderbilt who does not. So, I think it is unfair to characterize the argument as being the educated psychological elite versus those who follow Pinker's work like the religious who believe in the Bible.


I suppose that's why we don't accept anecdotal data as evidence. Do a Google Scholar search for universal grammar, and limit it to papers from 2000. You'll find a handful of hits, most of which are books or criticisms of the theory, and the remainder are speculative articles from obscure journals. The theory, if still accepted by some people, is either dead or at the very least on the extreme fringe of current research.

And if we want to play anecdotes, I don't know any psychologists in my department who buy into the theory of universal grammar. And it's the evolutionary psychologists of the department who are the most critical of him as they think he makes a joke of their field. I'm pretty sure UG is a fringe theory in linguistics too, hopefully Katja can confirm or reject that for me.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:
: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.


1) I know, and that was not an attempt at an argument. If I were to take a brief jab at behaviorism, the idea that the mind is a "black box" that cannot and should not be analyzed is bogus, and has been thoroughly rejected.


(I see Seeker has dealth with this in more detail but anyway...)

Except behaviorism does not say that the mind is a black box, and Skinner's behaviorism was "radical" because he argued against the idea that we should not attempt to study the mind. You're thinking of the methodological behaviorism of John Watson from the early 1900s who argued that we should not use hypothetical entities as explanations of behavior, and since our technology is not advanced enough to study what's going on inside the mind, we should only focus on what is observable.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:2) How does stimulus-response psychology have nothing to do with Skinner? It is critical to behaviorism.


No... Skinner rejected stimulus-response psychology as it was overly simplistic and could never explain the complexity of human behavior, particularly language..

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:3) Cognitive psychology uses some behaviorist principles to do some of its research. Behaviorism is not complete crap, and some useful knowledge arose from it, but by and large it is. Any experiment that attempts to analyze a cognitive function, however, violates behaviorist principles. Thus cognitive psychology is diametrically opposed to behaviorism - the two are incompatible. Behaviorism is obsolete.


Unfortunately, it's clear that you don't understand what behaviorism is or what principles cognitive psychology is based on. If cognitive psychology was diametrically opposed to behaviorism (rather than being the embodiment of Skinner's ideals who wanted a science of human cognition), then that would not explain why so many theories and ideas cross over between behavioral and cognitive psychology. Behaviorists have made huge contributions toward theories in cognitive psychology; for example memory, signal detection, mental rotation, perception, etc. And the reverse is true, of cognitive psychologists helping out in behavioral research. The only difference is subject matter - but obviously there is some huge overlap, and the work of each group is fundamental to each others progress. If you removed the contributions of modern behaviorists to cognitive psychology, then you'd set the field back about 20-30 years.

Read up a bit more about behaviorism. It's okay if you don't like it or if you think it's flawed, but you have an extremely distorted perception of what it is. Try to read up on the actual history of the subject, and you might even like it. (Your understanding of the topic seems to be an amalgamation of views put forward by Chomsky, Pinker, and I sense a hint of Paul Bloom in there too - if so, basically ignore everything they've all said about behaviorism. They are ridiculously ignorant of the field). A good starting point might be this review of Pinker's dealing of behaviorism in the blank slate here. Although such a rebuttal shouldn't be necessary, as it's confusing why an author would discuss behaviorism in a book about blank slate theorists, since behaviorism has always rejected the idea that behavior should only be explained by reference to the environment.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:Anyway, I'm enjoying the discussion, but don't feel like you have to respond to all of my points if you are pressed for time. :thumbup:


No problem, I'm enjoying it too. :cheers:
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Re: the "language instinct"

#66  Postby UtilityMonster » Nov 23, 2010 5:29 am

I am getting my wisdom teeth pulled tomorrow, so I may be too drugged up to form a coherent response.

For now, I'll rebut some of your points on behaviorism with quotes from wikipedia:

Mr.Samsa wrote:

Except behaviorism does not say that the mind is a black box, and Skinner's behaviorism was "radical" because he argued against the idea that we should not attempt to study the mind.


You are right, he did, but nevertheless

wikipedia wrote:
Skinner's behaviorism: hypothetical (mentalistic) internal states are not considered causes of behavior, phenomena must be observable at least to the individual experiencing them.


Mr.Samsa wrote:
No... Skinner rejected stimulus-response psychology as it was overly simplistic and could never explain the complexity of human behavior, particularly language..


wikipedia wrote:
As Skinner turned from experimental work to concentrate on the philosophical underpinnings of a science of behavior, his attention turned to human language with Verbal Behavior[10] and other language-related publications; Verbal Behavior laid out a vocabulary and theory for functional analysis of verbal behavior, and was strongly criticized in a review by Noam Chomsky. Skinner did not respond in detail but claimed that Chomsky failed to understand his ideas, and the disagreements between the two and the theories involved have been further discussed. In addition; innate theory is opposed to behaviorist theory which claims that language is a set of habits that can be acquired by means of conditioning.


Mr.Samsa wrote:
Unfortunately, it's clear that you don't understand what behaviorism is or what principles cognitive psychology is based on. If cognitive psychology was diametrically opposed to behaviorism (rather than being the embodiment of Skinner's ideals who wanted a science of human cognition), then that would not explain why so many theories and ideas cross over between behavioral and cognitive psychology. Behaviorists have made huge contributions toward theories in cognitive psychology; for example memory, signal detection, mental rotation, perception, etc. And the reverse is true, of cognitive psychologists helping out in behavioral research. The only difference is subject matter - but obviously there is some huge overlap, and the work of each group is fundamental to each others progress. If you removed the contributions of modern behaviorists to cognitive psychology, then you'd set the field back about 20-30 years.


Well, I accept the following definition, and everything I have said about behaviorism has been consistent with it.
wikipedia wrote:
Behaviorism is a philosophy of psychology based on the proposition that all things that organisms do—including acting, thinking and feeling—can and should be regarded as behaviors. The behaviorist school of thought maintains that behaviors as such can be described scientifically without recourse either to internal physiological events or to hypothetical constructs such as the mind.


It is possible that I have a skewed understanding of behaviorism. My professors have had an influence on me, and most treat Chomsky as being just short of a god. Still, surely there must be a reason that many trained professionals view him so highly.

As for what seeker said about cognitive psychology being more of an evolution than a revolution:
wikipedia wrote:
In the second half of the twentieth century, behaviorism was largely eclipsed as a result of the cognitive revolution. While behaviorism and cognitive schools of psychological thought may not agree theoretically, they have complemented each other in practical therapeutic applications, such as in cognitive-behavioral therapy.
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Re: the "language instinct"

#67  Postby Mr.Samsa » Nov 23, 2010 6:08 am

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:I am getting my wisdom teeth pulled tomorrow, so I may be too drugged up to form a coherent response.


:ill: Good luck with that.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:For now, I'll rebut some of your points on behaviorism with quotes from wikipedia:


:lol: Okay then, but keep in mind this is wiki-fucking-pedia and it's usually wrong on a lot of things.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:

Except behaviorism does not say that the mind is a black box, and Skinner's behaviorism was "radical" because he argued against the idea that we should not attempt to study the mind.


You are right, he did, but nevertheless

wikipedia wrote:
Skinner's behaviorism: hypothetical (mentalistic) internal states are not considered causes of behavior, phenomena must be observable at least to the individual experiencing them.


You have to understand Skinner's writing to be able to understand what he is rejecting here. He's not rejecting thoughts or feelings or cognitions being causes of behavior, he is rejecting mentalistic pseudo-explanations as causes of behavior. For example, a mentalistic explanation of why the rat pressed the lever is that it wanted the food reward. How do we know it wanted the food reward? Because it pressed the lever.

These kinds of explanations are just-so stories - they "explain" the data but they are useless to us. They don't actually explain anything. And it is these hypothetical internal states that he rejected, not cognitions. Cognitions and internal states that caused behavior were covered by his discussion of private behaviors and it is mostly a result of his work in this area which resulted in the branch of cognitive psychology. He laid out all the groundwork for the field.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:
No... Skinner rejected stimulus-response psychology as it was overly simplistic and could never explain the complexity of human behavior, particularly language..


wikipedia wrote:
As Skinner turned from experimental work to concentrate on the philosophical underpinnings of a science of behavior, his attention turned to human language with Verbal Behavior[10] and other language-related publications; Verbal Behavior laid out a vocabulary and theory for functional analysis of verbal behavior, and was strongly criticized in a review by Noam Chomsky. Skinner did not respond in detail but claimed that Chomsky failed to understand his ideas, and the disagreements between the two and the theories involved have been further discussed. In addition; innate theory is opposed to behaviorist theory which claims that language is a set of habits that can be acquired by means of conditioning.


Describing his theories as a "set of habits" is a little misleading, but I don't understand how this supports your claim of stimulus-response psychology?

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:
Unfortunately, it's clear that you don't understand what behaviorism is or what principles cognitive psychology is based on. If cognitive psychology was diametrically opposed to behaviorism (rather than being the embodiment of Skinner's ideals who wanted a science of human cognition), then that would not explain why so many theories and ideas cross over between behavioral and cognitive psychology. Behaviorists have made huge contributions toward theories in cognitive psychology; for example memory, signal detection, mental rotation, perception, etc. And the reverse is true, of cognitive psychologists helping out in behavioral research. The only difference is subject matter - but obviously there is some huge overlap, and the work of each group is fundamental to each others progress. If you removed the contributions of modern behaviorists to cognitive psychology, then you'd set the field back about 20-30 years.


Well, I accept the following definition, and everything I have said about behaviorism has been consistent with it.
wikipedia wrote:
Behaviorism is a philosophy of psychology based on the proposition that all things that organisms do—including acting, thinking and feeling—can and should be regarded as behaviors. The behaviorist school of thought maintains that behaviors as such can be described scientifically without recourse either to internal physiological events or to hypothetical constructs such as the mind.


This description is a bit vague because it's trying to describe the general idea behind all the schools of behaviorism, which isn't really possible since a lot of them contradict and conflict with other schools. But basically the behaviorism that underpins modern behavioral psychology and cognitive psychology obviously accepts recourse to internal physiological events (since a lot of behaviorist work is in neuroscience) but it's true that neither uses hypothetical constructs such as the mind as causes of behavior - not even cognitive psychology.

And just a note; when it says that acting, thinking and feeling can and should be regarded as behaviors, this doesn't necessarily mean overt behaviors. That is, no behaviorist will try to say that "thinking" is the "twitching of an eye with a pensive gaze" or whatever. Instead, the thought itself should be treated as a behavior, and thus subject to standard behavioral laws. A great example of this is cognitive behavioral therapy, which is directly based on the behaviorist notion of thoughts being behaviors.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:It is possible that I have a skewed understanding of behaviorism. My professors have had an influence on me, and most treat Chomsky as being just short of a god. Still, surely there must be a reason that many trained professionals view him so highly.


Behaviorism has had an incredibly rough history and very few people understand it. There was a paper a few years ago called "B.F.Skinner Myth and Misperception" where the authors did a study on various groups (general uni students, psychology students, postgraduate students, lecturers etc) to test common areas of misunderstanding of behaviorism. They found that, on average, all groups believed in around 3-4 of the myths tested for in a 7 question test (the myths were interspersed with other questions in the quiz). There's some info on the specific myths here.

But basically very few people outside of behavioral psychology actually understand what Skinner argued for and what behaviorism is. Chomsky didn't help matters by posting his infamous review of Verbal Behavior, filled with his serious misunderstandings of what Skinner was arguing for. I linked you earlier to Maccorquodale's reply, where he basically starts out by apologising to Chomsky for nobody replying to him sooner, but the simple fact was that nobody could figure out who he was attacking as his review was so confused. That is, his review states that it's an attack on Skinner's Verbal Behavior, but he spends most of his article attacking stimulus-response psychology - which is fine, but Skinner had already destroyed most of the arguments of S-R psychology 10-20 years prior to Chomsky. It was the academic equivalent of Ray Comfort's banana argument. Most people in behavioral psychology didn't know how to possibly respond to such an idiotic piece of writing and assumed it would just fade away, but Chomsky saw it as a "victory" because nobody could refute his "arguments".

People view him highly for his work in linguistics. Some view him highly because they had personal grievances with behaviorism and they didn't bother reading his review but supported him anyway. But his ideas on the development and evolution of language have never really been well-accepted - like his Language Acquisition Device. It's a neat idea for a philosopher, but as a scientist the idea has always been ridiculous.

Final point on this though: if Chomsky destroyed Skinner's ideas on language and behaviorist ideas of language are so flawed, then why do most successful language therapies rely on Skinner's theories and no language therapy even references Chomsky?

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:As for what seeker said about cognitive psychology being more of an evolution than a revolution:
wikipedia wrote:
In the second half of the twentieth century, behaviorism was largely eclipsed as a result of the cognitive revolution. While behaviorism and cognitive schools of psychological thought may not agree theoretically, they have complemented each other in practical therapeutic applications, such as in cognitive-behavioral therapy.


Again, this is a dramatic twist on the actual history of the subject. In everyday life, cognitive psychologists and behavioral psychologists work side-by-side; usually literally, where their labs will be next to each other since they're basically studying the same thing, with the same tools. There is no theoretical disagreement between the two branches, which is why I can easily incorporate any cognitive findings into my research and vice versa without any caveats or explanations.
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Re: the "language instinct"

#68  Postby UtilityMonster » Nov 23, 2010 6:14 am

seeker wrote:
MillsianUtilitarian wrote:
seeker wrote:
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.


What? Absolutely not.

There are clear evolutionary drives for the development of language. If there weren't, it wouldn't have evolved.

This is not true: a phenotypic characteristic may be a byproduct of the evolution of some other character, rather than a direct product of adaptive selection. That´s what´s called a “spandrel”:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spandrel_(biology)


Yes, I realize that the evolution of some things do not have adaptational significance (such as love of music), but for something as significant and neurologically demanding as language, you would be hard pressed to argue that its evolution was not beneficial to our species. In fact, from a face value standpoint, it would be utterly absurd to suggest that language is not evolutionarily advantageous. Lastly, I have trouble imagining a scenario where language in and of itself serves no reproductive purpose (although, present one if you can).

Mr. Samsa, I'm off to bed. I'll get back to you as soon as possible (with some concessions, probably, but with some POWERFUL refutations as well ;) )
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Re: the "language instinct"

#69  Postby Mr.Samsa » Nov 23, 2010 6:48 am

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:Yes, I realize that the evolution of some things do not have adaptational significance (such as love of music), but for something as significant and neurologically demanding as language, you would be hard pressed to argue that its evolution was not beneficial to our species. In fact, from a face value standpoint, it would be utterly absurd to suggest that language is not evolutionarily advantageous. Lastly, I have trouble imagining a scenario where language in and of itself serves no reproductive purpose (although, present one if you can).


The point is that even if we accept that language could have a huge adaptational advantage, this doesn't mean it was selected for. And just for kicks, I'll point out that Chomsky thought that an evolution of language in this sense was impossible. :grin:

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:Mr. Samsa, I'm off to bed. I'll get back to you as soon as possible (with some concessions, probably, but with some POWERFUL refutations as well ;) )


I look forward to them :thumbup:
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Re: the "language instinct"

#70  Postby katja z » Nov 23, 2010 7:43 am

:shock: I just turn in for a few hours and what happens to the thread?

:lol: I'm glad to see it has *cough* generated some, by the looks of it, heated discussion! I'll try to catch up with it asap; I still have some points to respond to from yesteray. But real life first! :waah:
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Re: the "language instinct"

#71  Postby katja z » Nov 23, 2010 6:53 pm

Ok. I don't have enough time to respond to everything I'd like to, but as the author of the OP I do feel a clarification is due about the pidgin-creole cycle as evidence for the innateness of language. I'm deliberately avoiding the concept of the "language acquisition device" here, because even Chomsky himself has abandoned that, so I assume we can safely leave it out of the discussion; I've already presented a more rigorous formulation of the idea of UG, the principles and parameters hypothesis (along with some criticism) in this post, and I would be interested in feedback especially from those on this thread who favour UG.

As I've already stated, I'm much less certain that Bickerton's work on creoles supports the hypothesis of a "language instinct" than I was when I wrote the OP. As I've found out recently that it isn't nearly as uncritically accepted among linguists as I had thought, and this led me to rethink it a bit more. To begin with, as has already been mentioned, the formation of Caribbean creoles wasn't documented in their early stages (meaning that the whole story of how they developed is a hypothesis in need of evidence, so it can't be taken as evidence for the nativist hypothesis!). The slaves were interesting as a workforce, not as a speaking community. The Caribbean creoles are special because they are the only known case where practially all the people who "created" these languages were cut off from their respective original linguistic communities. Other important sites of pidginisation and creolisation processes are markets, in particular cities where speakers of a number of languages have to communicate on a day-to-day basis - but these are multilingual environments where a pidgin will typically only represent one of the languages a speaker uses, for only part of their social communication - the part outside their own linguistic community. This makes for a different dynamics of development, even when part of the new generation takes over the new linguistic medium as their main communication tool (this will overlap with the continued use of this medium for only limited purposes by speakers of other languages, resulting in a range of language practices that are often difficult to classify). In particular, this new generation will have a lot of linguistic input apart from the pidgin, so logically it can't be credited with developing a creole grammar from scratch. Swahili and lingala are good examples of such vernacularisation of a regional trading lingua franca, in both cases retaining a recognisably Bantu grammar.

Now back to the Caribbean creoles. It is true that the slaves there typically didn't have a common language as they were systematically separated so as to minimise the possiblity of their staging a revolt. (That is, plantation workers lacked a common language; house slaves would learn some English, some of which then filtered to plantation slaves.) But there are two buts. First, nothing prevented mothers from using their own mother tongues when speaking to their children, even if they couldn't use it to communicate with adults. Indeed, it would be very surprising if they hadn't done so - it just comes natural (ahem) crowing to a baby in your mother tongue! In fact, there is good reason to suppose this is just what happened, because we know that a good many African traditions were preserved in the Caribbean cultures (and not only children's stories either; a lot of elements of Haitian Voodoo, including the deity Ogou, come from Yoruba mythology). Now this would have meant that these children got a lot of linguistic input from these full-fledged African languages. Not only that; this process repeated over many generations, as new slaves kept being imported (mortality was high). Also, after reading up on the history of Atlantic slave trade, I think it is virtually impossible that all, or even a majority, of the slaves would have been so completely linguistically isolated as the usual story assumes, because a large portion of slaves came from a few regions in Africa with higher than average population densites (Yorubaland comes to mind), and those would have spoken similar languages, or shared a vehicular language. All of which means that the story of the development of even these creoles is a LOT more complicated than is usually thought, and that creole grammars didn't develop in the absence of other grammatical models for the children to exploit. True, the grammatical models would have been those of another language, but models are easily transferable from one language to another, as any language teacher knows - such transfers are a rich source of mistakes people make when learning a foreign language.

Now, I realise that none of what I've just said disproves the UG hypothesis. I feel, however, that it does considerably weaken the claim that the development of grammar in creoles constitutes solid evidence for it, as being impossible to account for by learning.

@ Seeker and Mr. Samsa: a big thanks for continuing to provide an excellent free course in psychology! :thumbup: I'm learning a lot. I was especially interested in seeker's discussion of research on language. Seeker, would you recomment Tomasello's 2005 book to a nonspecialist? I'd already read about him and would very much like to read something by him. Which do you think would be the best text to start with?
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Re: the "language instinct"

#72  Postby katja z » Nov 23, 2010 7:13 pm

Oh, and jodiebug -
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? And thanks for telling us all what reflexes are. Now we know
how knowledgeable you are and will trust your opinions.

Two things. First, every culture uses fire to prepare food (well, except the Tasmanians before they were "discovered" I think, and that's only because they abandoned it, not that they'd never used it in the first place), but cooking isn't a genetic behaviour. (And while not every culture has invented TV, I'm pretty sure members of every culture now extant have already watched it.)

Secondly, Mr. Samsa was specifically responding to me, knowing that my knowledge of psychology and neuroscience was very limited, I had even quizzed him about that repeatedly (here and on other threads as well). Jeez, that was some selective reading on your part, you responded to just about every line of his you could criticise, including his joking comments to me that weren't even part of the serious discussion, but failed to notice the context of his post!

Now how about we stick to this very interesting topic and have a look at the actual arguments. :cheers:
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Re: the "language instinct"

#73  Postby katja z » Nov 23, 2010 8:05 pm

Mr.Samsa wrote: I'm pretty sure UG is a fringe theory in linguistics too, hopefully Katja can confirm or reject that for me.

Well, yes and no. UG is pretty much accepted around here, but that isn't representative of the world's linguistic consensus, and frankly I've no idea what that consensus is or if it even exists, as there are a number of quite distinct traditions here. I can say that I know of a number of linguists here (although my sample space is limited to just one department!) who study syntax within the theoretical frameworks of generative/transformational grammar. However, this doesn't hinge on the concept of the UG itself (which is too abstract) but on the concepts of deep and surface structures, which do have some descriptive power, and as palindnilap has argued, have also proved useful in the modelling of computer languages. There's a long way to go from the still-useful level of abstraction in such work to the level of a hypothetical UG, although many people hope that the step can be made. Personally, I'm dubious.

Anyway, even in the study of grammar, generative/transformational approaches certainly aren't the only game in town. There are also relational grammar (completely unrelated, started as an alternative to Chomsky's generative grammar), lexical functional grammar (a non-Chomskyan brand of transformational grammar) and probably others.

Personally, I haven't come across UG that much because this concept simply isn't relevant for the areas of linguistics I'm most interested in, especially sociolinguistics and historical linguistics. Indeed, it is one of my main problems with Chomsky - which I've expressed several times on this board - that the subject of his linguistics is the ideal speaker/listener in a homogeneous speaking community. Show me a homogeneous speaking community and I'll eat my hat. (I don't have one, but I'll buy one especially for this purpose.)
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Re: the "language instinct"

#74  Postby Mr.Samsa » Nov 23, 2010 11:17 pm

Thanks Katja for that information on creole languages and UG in linguistics. Very interesting :nod:
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Re: the "language instinct"

#75  Postby seeker » Nov 24, 2010 3:36 am

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:Yes, I realize that the evolution of some things do not have adaptational significance (such as love of music), but for something as significant and neurologically demanding as language, you would be hard pressed to argue that its evolution was not beneficial to our species. In fact, from a face value standpoint, it would be utterly absurd to suggest that language is not evolutionarily advantageous. Lastly, I have trouble imagining a scenario where language in and of itself serves no reproductive purpose (although, present one if you can).

You´re still confusing evidence with non-evidence. Nobody is denying that “language is adaptive”, but that´s not evidence for saying that it was selected by evolution as a “language instinct”. As I´ve argued before, a datum is positive evidence for an hypothesis only when it´s negative evidence for the rival hypotheses with equal or greater plausibility (so you need to understand the rival hypotheses before assessing the relative degrees of evidence). The rival hypotheses for your last claim are spandrels, exaptations, preadaptations, and co-optations. The function of a trait might shift during its evolutionary history. Characters previously shaped by natural selection for a particular function (adaptations) and characters whose origin cannot be ascribed to the direct action of natural selection (nonaptations, byproducts) may be coopted for a new use (again, because of direct selective pressures, or as a byproduct of pressures on other characters). For example, feathers, which initially evolved for heat regulation, were co-opted for display, and later co-opted for flight; the gas bladder of fish evolved from early lungs, and sweat glands in mammals were transformed into mammary glands.

MillsianUtilitarian wrote:For now, I'll rebut some of your points on behaviorism with quotes from wikipedia...

Your source of information is much less reliable than the sources MrSamsa and I have been using and referencing to you (publications in peer-reviewed journals, and first hand reading of the authors about whose work we´re talking). For a rebutal, you need a more reliable evidence than those used in what you´re trying to rebut, not a less reliable one.
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Re: the "language instinct"

#76  Postby seeker » Nov 24, 2010 4:08 am

katja z wrote:Seeker[/b], would you recomment Tomasello's 2005 book to a nonspecialist? I'd already read about him and would very much like to read something by him. Which do you think would be the best text to start with?

Yes, I think Tomasello´s work is very interesting. I´ve also liked Elman´s and Cowie´s books. Tomasello´s and Cowie´s books can be downloaded from the web, and Elman has many articles in his website.
You´ve mentioned relational grammar and lexical functional grammar: can you tell me something more about them? I´ve readen something of cognitive linguistics on grammar, and the accounts seemed to be close to RFT accounts.
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Re: the "language instinct"

#77  Postby katja z » Nov 24, 2010 8:25 am

seeker wrote:
You´ve mentioned relational grammar and lexical functional grammar: can you tell me something more about them? I´ve readen something of cognitive linguistics on grammar, and the accounts seemed to be close to RFT accounts.

Hmm, I've never studied grammar theory, but ... RG basically focuses on grammatical relations of sentence constituents wrt the predicate. The predicate is at the centre of attention, as it governs how many and which of these relations will be expressed in a sentence, and how (this is known as verb valency, although it isn't only verbs that have valencies - action (deverbal) nouns have them too). So there's a strong interdependence of syntax (structure) and the lexicon (material) of a language. If I remember correctly, the basic grammatical relations are defined in terms of a limited number of semantic roles wrt the action/process/state denoted by the verb. This book might be of use for a more in-depth overview (I've linked to Amazon, but a preview is also available on Google Books).

As for LFG, I'm afraid wikipedia knows about as much as I do. An advantage of LFG as I see it is the recognition of the importance of the information structure of the sentence.
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Re: the "language instinct"

#78  Postby palindnilap » Nov 24, 2010 10:18 am

I am basically a lurker in that very interesting debate, but since I have been quoted on the UG from the point of view of formal language theory, here is a quick summary in order to lift possible misunderstandings.

- From what I know, the main credential of Chomsky's theory of generative grammar is not only that it is the way of modeling computer languages, but also that it is the most parsimonious way for a computer to generate grammatically correct sentences in natural languages. That makes it very seductive for people with an AI frame of mind (cognitive scientists?).

- A lot of confusion seems to come from an unfortunate wording, so I'll bold what I have said again : Chomsky's Universal Grammar is not a grammar in Chomsky's sense (nor probably in anyone's sense). It is a very large, but finite set of possible grammars. So variations observed in existing grammars don't disprove UG. The problem is more with what the existence of UG actually proves, and that Chomsky has got far ahead of himself on the matter seems unquestionable.
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Re: the "language instinct"

#79  Postby katja z » Nov 24, 2010 11:13 am

palindnilap wrote:I am basically a lurker in that very interesting debate, but since I have been quoted on the UG from the point of view of formal language theory, here is a quick summary in order to lift possible misunderstandings.

Thanks palindnilap, I've been hoping you would join the fray. :cheers:

- From what I know, the main credential of Chomsky's theory of generative grammar is not only that it is the way of modeling computer languages, but also that it is the most parsimonious way for a computer to generate grammatically correct sentences in natural languages. That makes it very seductive for people with an AI frame of mind (cognitive scientists?).

Indeed, thanks for the correction.

I thought I'd mentioned that as well - and I had, but in another thread. I'm losing track :doh: This fits with what I've said of the descriptive power of generative/transformative grammar. I don't think anybody denies it is a useful model on some level. But then, Newtonian physics works fine at a certain level too. :grin:

I wonder if you've come across LFT? I understand it has good claims as well, and I think it has been used in the development of automated translation programmes.

- A lot of confusion seems to come from an unfortunate wording, so I'll bold what I have said again : Chomsky's Universal Grammar is not a grammar in Chomsky's sense (nor probably in anyone's sense). It is a very large, but finite set of possible grammars. So variations observed in existing grammars don't disprove UG. The problem is more with what the existence of UG actually proves, and that Chomsky has got far ahead of himself on the matter seems unquestionable.


Has anybody been taking UG in this sense? :scratch: Variations certainly don't disprove UG, nobody has said that, but if Chomsky was correct, 1) we should be able to account for ALL of this variation in terms of a limited number of universal principles and a limited set of parametres (switches) (in other words, we should be able to fit all known ways of structuring linguistic material into a single, coherent framework), and 2) we should be able to show these were innate, which is where it all gets sticky.

If I go with your wording, how can "a final set of possible grammars" be given in advance (which logically it should be if UG is an innate set of principles for structuring language)? I'm ok with this as a descriptor for the status quo (as long as it captures enough of the variation to be useful, which it apparently does), but not as an evolutionary story.

:cheers:
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Re: the "language instinct"

#80  Postby seeker » Nov 24, 2010 3:51 pm

palindnilap wrote:From what I know, the main credential of Chomsky's theory of generative grammar is not only that it is the way of modeling computer languages, but also that it is the most parsimonious way for a computer to generate grammatically correct sentences in natural languages. That makes it very seductive for people with an AI frame of mind (cognitive scientists?).

I´m not so sure of this. First, I don´t think that “Chomsky's theory is the way of modeling computer languages”: here you´re merely talking about “formal modelling” which is wider than “Chomsky's theory”. There´s nothing specifically "chomskyan" in doing formal models (for example, Elman has proposed formal models of grammar, but he rejects Chomsky´s theory).
Second, I don´t think it´s “the most parsimonious way”. Parsimony is a complex issue, because it depends on a background of evidence that we assume for assessing it. For example, Elman would argue that his connectionist models are more parsimonious, because they are more biologically plausible and they don´t postulate mechanisms beyond our evidence (Elman´s models are based on what we know about how our brains work).

palindnilap wrote:A lot of confusion seems to come from an unfortunate wording, so I'll bold what I have said again : Chomsky's Universal Grammar is not a grammar in Chomsky's sense (nor probably in anyone's sense). It is a very large, but finite set of possible grammars. So variations observed in existing grammars don't disprove UG. The problem is more with what the existence of UG actually proves, and that Chomsky has got far ahead of himself on the matter seems unquestionable.

The problem is that, if we accept your definition, Chomsky has proposed a non-empirical claim: “all existent grammars are included in the very large but finite set of all possible grammars”. If that´s the way we should understand Chomsky, then he didn´t propose an empirical theory, and his relevance for linguistics is null.
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