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(Chronicle of Higher Education)   Cunning linguist makes discovery in the Amazon that could destroy the foundation of modern linguistics   (chronicle.com) divider line 164
    More: Interesting, cunning linguist, linguistics, discovery  
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11495 clicks; posted to Geek » on 24 Mar 2012 at 6:20 PM (2 years ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2012-03-24 08:00:51 PM
The alien would reasonably conclude that the languages of the world are mostly similar with interesting but relatively minor variations.


arch.413chan.net


You'd think a linguist would AT LEAST learn two or three languages with different roots. Instead, Noam just pulled a Martian out of his butt and gave him a pre-fabricated conclusion. A typical thought experiment in the very worst traditions of 20th century "philosophy"

But wait, he speaks "Hebrew" kind of! No, no he doesn't. Hebrew died a long ass farking time ago. Modern Hebrew is basically a modified Yiddish, which is a Germanic language similar to, that's right, ENGLISH.

You can read your students' papers on subjects like other languages, but unless you get out there and use them day to day, you're basically relying on hearsay. Might as well just make up your own data while you're at it. I guess Noam thought the same way and did exactly that with the Martian.

Plus, you know his truly great contribution was to the "prove" that a cat raised from a kitten cannot be taught to produce human sounds. He also proved french horns cannot produce guitar solos and that red paint does not produce blueberry bushed when planted like seeds.
 
2012-03-24 08:02:40 PM

StrangeQ: So a primitive tribe living cut off from modern civilization speaks with a primitive form of language. Why is this surprising, exactly?


Because "a little" isn't very different from "a little less", but it IS very different from "none".

At least I think that's part of what's going on there.
 
2012-03-24 08:03:10 PM
Yeah, "destroy the foundation"... or erode a theoretical tenet slightly... or demonstrate the results of improper research and interpretation of data... y'know, whatever.

Kimothy: gaspode: Kimothy:

While there is nothing actually untrue in your post, the chances are you were just another student with grossly inflated ideas of your understanding of science in general and this subject in particular. One year of science theory and they get completely convinced they know everything and that their professors are just arrogant fools and that that PHD and professorship mean nothing. Professors get extremely annoyed mostly because if they did not dismiss such people they would spend most of their lives arguing with them instead of doing what they are supposed to be doing. This is especially the case when the student is attempting to hijack lectures and tutorials where other students are attempting to study.

Oh, you totally got me there. You must have been in class that day! Wow, you're insight to my motivations is so spot on, I don't know why I didn't see it myself. Amazing. You're a genius. GENIUS.


Touched a nerve there?

To be fair, I had the same thought when I read your post. "Oh, another student who holds up the lecture to ask mindless, irrelevant questions and then claim the professor's refusal to answer the questions means the professor doesn't know anything and is engaged in mindless hero-worship." I bet you've read, like, way more books than your professor.
 
2012-03-24 08:03:31 PM

Sliding Carp: jtown: So, basically, academics are no better than a Jerry Springer audience.

If you had ever been in a meeting where office and lab space was being re-allocated, you wouldn't need to ask that question.



www.smbc-comics.com
 
2012-03-24 08:05:11 PM

turbidum: 3.. If Everett's claims are true, it would not destroy the foundation of modern linguistics. Chomsky could easily have been wrong


Don't let him or his disciples hear you say that.
 
2012-03-24 08:17:42 PM
Cliff's notes version:

"His mother, Itaha, spoke."

It's recursive.

The End.
 
2012-03-24 08:27:02 PM
After reading TFA, it seems the only rational course of action is to shoot all the linguists. Epic douchebags, the lot of them.
 
2012-03-24 08:30:18 PM

StrangeQ: So a primitive tribe living cut off from modern civilization speaks with a primitive form of language. Why is this surprising, exactly?


Because if I understand it correctly, the current theory is that certain structural parts of all human language are thought to be hard wired, including grammar. Culture just fine tunes what is innate behavior, sort of like when a songbird is not exposed to its species' vocalizations, it will make some sounds, but not capture the song associated with other birds of its species.

Although these people live with primitive technology, they are biologically fully modern humans, and as such, are expected to utilize the same pre-programmed language structures as all other humans do.
 
2012-03-24 08:30:22 PM
mat catastrophe

Besides the lameness of using a xkcd comic, he did that with the whole Khmer Rouge thing and Vietnamese communists (he said the US was actually responsible for the CAmbodians deaths, NOT Pol Pot, and said that the Vietnamese communists were achieving wonderful things after the Vietnam war) and the whole Bosnian Muslim thing (he derided the US for getting involved in the ICC stuff for the Bosnian Muslims against the genocide committed against them, saying it had to be the US trying to use them for some kind of gain).
 
2012-03-24 09:10:08 PM

turbidum: Chomsky could easily have been wrong when he claimed recursion to be a fundamental part of UG.


By refusing, for decades now, to provide a consistent definition of UG, Chomsky is wrong. He's had lots of time to actually state his case, yet he never does. He keeps changing it.

Also the accusations of racism are shameful and any academic found making them should find their office locked and their stuff thrown out the window. Actually a lot of linguists should find themselves in that situation. Either behave like mature adults or GTFO.
 
2012-03-24 09:12:24 PM

Straelbora: , are expected to utilize the same pre-programmed language structures as all other humans do.


Except that grammar is so varied, that claiming there's some pre-wired grammar is at best a questionable claim.
 
2012-03-24 09:15:18 PM

SharkTrager: turbidum: 3.. If Everett's claims are true, it would not destroy the foundation of modern linguistics. Chomsky could easily have been wrong

Don't let him or his disciples hear you say that.


Eh, if I ever go get a masters in linguistics, I'll steer clear of all that shiat. I like concrete things like infixes and ablaut. There's a reason my undergrad thesis was titled "A Prosodic Morphology Approach to Reduplication in Hawaiian."
 
2012-03-24 09:18:52 PM

Kimothy: gaspode: Kimothy:


While there is nothing actually untrue in your post, the chances are you were just another student with grossly inflated ideas of your understanding of science in general and this subject in particular. One year of science theory and they get completely convinced they know everything and that their professors are just arrogant fools and that that PHD and professorship mean nothing. Professors get extremely annoyed mostly because if they did not dismiss such people they would spend most of their lives arguing with them instead of doing what they are supposed to be doing. This is especially the case when the student is attempting to hijack lectures and tutorials where other students are attempting to study.

Oh, you totally got me there. You must have been in class that day! Wow, you're insight to my motivations is so spot on, I don't know why I didn't see it myself. Amazing. You're a genius. GENIUS.


I read his post and thought "gee gaspode, way to jump to conclusions." Then I read your response and thought "eh, gaspode was probably right"

Fwiw.
 
2012-03-24 09:19:07 PM

turbidum: SharkTrager: turbidum: 3.. If Everett's claims are true, it would not destroy the foundation of modern linguistics. Chomsky could easily have been wrong

Don't let him or his disciples hear you say that.

Eh, if I ever go get a masters in linguistics, I'll steer clear of all that shiat. I like concrete things like infixes and ablaut. There's a reason my undergrad thesis was titled "A Prosodic Morphology Approach to Reduplication in Hawaiian."


They have an undergrad thesis now, too?
 
2012-03-24 09:27:32 PM

doglover: turbidum: SharkTrager: turbidum: 3.. If Everett's claims are true, it would not destroy the foundation of modern linguistics. Chomsky could easily have been wrong

Don't let him or his disciples hear you say that.

Eh, if I ever go get a masters in linguistics, I'll steer clear of all that shiat. I like concrete things like infixes and ablaut. There's a reason my undergrad thesis was titled "A Prosodic Morphology Approach to Reduplication in Hawaiian."

They have an undergrad thesis now, too?


Depends on the school and the major. For hard science undergrads, it was just a final lab report essentially. For history undergrads, it was a 50-page paper.

I dunno, we called it a thesis.
 
2012-03-24 09:28:42 PM

gaspode: Professors get extremely annoyed


No, good professors welcome challenges. As a history professor in college said "I want you to say what you think, not what you think I want to hear". This being a professor who admitted that anyone could learn what he knew and that if someone had an idea he'd like to hear it, and if it was good enough he'd be happy to help get it published. This to a class of undergrads. Then there was the philosophy professor who if he found you to like to argue and that you understood the question at hand, would suggest you major in philosophy. Not because he thought you'd get smacked around, but because the field depends on different points of view. He once pointed out he'd been thesis adviser for two doctoral students who he knew from day one were working on papers that sought to show what he himself had published was wrong. And then there the people he was thesis adviser for who were writing about entirely different areas of philosophy from what he dealt with but he figured it was his job to make sure they did well.
 
2012-03-24 09:30:08 PM
callitrax: Ok, so apparently Chomsky has no idea how science is carried out. From the end of the article:

Recently there's been a rise in so-called corpus linguistics, a data-driven method of evaluating a language, using computer software to analyze sentences and phrases. The method produces detailed information and, for scholars like Gibson, finally provides scientific rigor for a field he believes has been mired in never-ending theoretical disputes. That, along with the brain-scanning technology that linguists are increasingly making use of, may be able to help resolve questions about how much of the structure of language is innate and how much is shaped by culture.

But Chomsky has little use for that method. In his lecture, he deemed corpus linguistics nonscientific, comparing it to doing physics by describing the swirl of leaves on a windy day rather than performing experiments. This was "just statistical modeling," he said...

Um, computer based statistical models are a very common and scientific way to do physics. (unless the 1.8 million Google scholar results for physics computer model are all BS) And the brain scans ARE experiments.

But then from reading the rest of the novella... er article, ad hominem attacks and physically preventing people from undertaking research seem to be the height of linguistic academia.


For my experience in low level linguistics classes, the people that ascribe to the field are obsessive-compulsive, and put English major grammar Nazis to shame.
 
2012-03-24 09:37:18 PM
i think there's something to be said for how the human brain universally organizes things into categories that become words, recursion is just a mechanic to deal with increasingly complex systems, if your culture is extremely minimalist then what's the point? the brain is utilitarian when it comes to mechanics, basically both sides are probably not 100% right, so vote republican
 
2012-03-24 09:38:45 PM
Tyrantil For my experience in low level linguistics classes, the people that ascribe to the field are obsessive-compulsive, and put English major grammar Nazis to shame.

Not all of us are like that. Some of us work with endangered languages and try to bring them back. I do think that the near worship of Chomsky is holding back the field. He had some ground breaking ideas. Not all of them are right and we need to get by it. He has math envy too and that makes those of us who focus on language and culture annoyed to begin with
 
2012-03-24 09:38:57 PM

Smackledorfer: Kimothy: gaspode: Kimothy:


I read his post and thought "gee gaspode, way to jump to conclusions." Then I read your response and thought "eh, gaspode was probably right"

Fwiw.


Guess I was too heavy on the sarcasm, eh? I just was amused at the assumption that I was in some lecture and thought my professor was an arrogant fool, so I had to hijack a lecture to demonstrate my intellectual superiority. I mean come on, professors are never wrong and clearly I should have taken his word as gospel truth, right? And I should especially never question something in a lecture class because you know, some people are there to learn and actually study. And I especially shouldn't do that with my one year of science theory and my minuscule knowledge of science, theory, or Chomsky, right?

The truth is, it was a small group graduate seminar, the professor invited questions, and we had a disagreement based on some of Chomsky's writings. I thought the prof went a bit overboard in his defense of Chomsky (who in the prof's eyes could do no wrong). I'd been in plenty of classes, both undergrad and graduate where professors who invited questions actually wanted questions and debate - because doing so improves both the field and the students. This prof was an exception to that rule.

FWIW
 
2012-03-24 09:46:34 PM

gaspode: Kimothy:
I got into a huge fight with a linguistics professor about Chomsky once. It wasn't pretty. The hero-worship among linguistics professionals leaves no room for criticism or debate, which I find antithetical in intellectual pursuits. If you aren't open to questions, then your theories are meaningless. Good theories, principles, or laws in any given field exist because they've been questioned, examined, and proved over and over again - and the goalposts haven't moved. Chomsky's theories don't fit, because he changes them to suit whatever criticism has been set forth, thus making it impossible to question, examine, or prove any of this theories.

While there is nothing actually untrue in your post, the chances are you were just another student with grossly inflated ideas of your understanding of science in general and this subject in particular. One year of science theory and they get completely convinced they know everything and that their professors are just arrogant fools and that that PHD and professorship mean nothing. Professors get extremely annoyed mostly because if they did not dismiss such people they would spend most of their lives arguing with them instead of doing what they are supposed to be doing. This is especially the case when the student is attempting to hijack lectures and tutorials where other students are attempting to study.


People like you are the problem with academia.
 
2012-03-24 09:47:12 PM

WhyteRaven74: turbidum: Chomsky could easily have been wrong when he claimed recursion to be a fundamental part of UG.

By refusing, for decades now, to provide a consistent definition of UG, Chomsky is wrong. He's had lots of time to actually state his case, yet he never does. He keeps changing it.

Also the accusations of racism are shameful and any academic found making them should find their office locked and their stuff thrown out the window. Actually a lot of linguists should find themselves in that situation. Either behave like mature adults or GTFO.


I'm not condoning anything Chomsky et al. did (some of sounds downright petulant), but all of that only matters if you're a Chomsky-idolizer.

For me, he's just another great mind in linguistics. People look to him, sure, but I'd say anyone who takes his words as gospel without proper vetting is a piss-poor linguist. Maybe he hasn't fully explained UG, so what? That's why there are thousands of other linguists working in the field.

(And it's a bit ridiculous to say that because grammars are so varied there's nothing pre-wired. The pre-wired grammar may not be as complicated as a fully formed grammar, but we communicate far too quickly and far too well for there not to be something there.)
 
2012-03-24 09:47:23 PM
Note: I was referring to gaspode, not Kimothy.
 
2012-03-24 09:50:09 PM

corgic: Tyrantil For my experience in low level linguistics classes, the people that ascribe to the field are obsessive-compulsive, and put English major grammar Nazis to shame.

Not all of us are like that. Some of us work with endangered languages and try to bring them back. I do think that the near worship of Chomsky is holding back the field. He had some ground breaking ideas. Not all of them are right and we need to get by it. He has math envy too and that makes those of us who focus on language and culture annoyed to begin with


Ooooh. Do you work with endangered languages? Which one(s)? I found the language politics in Hawaii fascinating.
 
2012-03-24 09:51:02 PM

turbidum: Depends on the school and the major. For hard science undergrads, it was just a final lab report essentially. For history undergrads, it was a 50-page paper.


No one I know had anything like this for a bachelor's. It was all about credits. Master's and PhD, yes, but undergrad?
 
kth
2012-03-24 09:51:46 PM

theorellior: "Don't Sleep There Are Snakes" was a decent book, but I wish it had concentrated on either the language or his unraveling fundamentalist faith and family life, not both. I understand this book does the former.


I would like to read both of those books. However, I agree that he needed to pick one thing.
 
2012-03-24 09:54:00 PM
turbidum Right now I'm working with the Chiricahua Apache. They're Geronimo's band. Good stuff. They have a word list (no verbs) and lots of recorded songs. The only downside is that they are resistant to using other Apache languages to sort out their own. The different bands aren't overly fond of one another
 
2012-03-24 09:57:45 PM

turbidum: Maybe he hasn't fully explained UG, so what?


He keeps moving the goalposts and when someone points out a flaw he twists things around so he can go "Flaw? What flaw?"
 
2012-03-24 09:59:22 PM
WhyteRaven74 He keeps moving the goalposts and when someone points out a flaw he twists things around so he can go "Flaw? What flaw?"

That's what bugs me about him. That and his love of all things binary
 
2012-03-24 09:59:47 PM
LINGUISTICS COMMUNITY: We iz sad because we have no comprehensive theory of langauge.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Hai guys, I have this really cool theory that explains 90% of language structure using simple rules.

LINGUISTICS COMMUNITY: Wow that iz really cool, you are our new God.

[Spends next 50 years turning Chomsky's simple system into a complex, intricate system to account for other 10% of cases]

NOAM CHOMSKY: My work here iz finished. Now I will rage against successful human establishments and support dictators.

/Everett's a lying attention-whore, Universal Grammar is Universal, Chomsky's version of UG isn't right
 
2012-03-24 10:04:38 PM

WhyteRaven74: turbidum: Maybe he hasn't fully explained UG, so what?

He keeps moving the goalposts and when someone points out a flaw he twists things around so he can go "Flaw? What flaw?"


Again, so what? Does that discredit all of UG? It's not like he's the only one working in the field.
 
2012-03-24 10:11:29 PM

corgic: turbidum Right now I'm working with the Chiricahua Apache. They're Geronimo's band. Good stuff. They have a word list (no verbs) and lots of recorded songs. The only downside is that they are resistant to using other Apache languages to sort out their own. The different bands aren't overly fond of one another


Awesome3.

doglover: turbidum: Depends on the school and the major. For hard science undergrads, it was just a final lab report essentially. For history undergrads, it was a 50-page paper.

No one I know had anything like this for a bachelor's. It was all about credits. Master's and PhD, yes, but undergrad?


I went to an Ivy, so maybe that explains it. For theater, it was a final project instead (I translated and adapted a Spanish play).
 
2012-03-24 10:20:42 PM

corgic: of all things binary


That's another thing with his thinking. Though it tends to get lost in between all the twisting and turning he does.

aerojockey: Everett's a lying attention-whore,


And you base this on what exactly?

turbidum: Does that discredit all of UG?


Fundamentally yes. It either is something, or it's not. You can't keep performing intellectual gymnastics to distort things and move things around to try to whitewash any holes.
 
2012-03-24 10:23:43 PM

LaViergeNoire: Old news is old. I'm teaching a course on cross-cultural linguistics (I'm an anthropologist) right now and my students are all over this stuff. Recursion, relative counting system, people moving in and out of perceived existence, etc. I have a Daniel Everett lecture on DVD that I showed them and the man is funny and entertaining. It's also interesting to see how the Pirahã essentially got this missionary linguist to give up his religion because their language gives very little credence to claims that the claimant hasn't actually seen first hand. Fascinating stuff. There was a great article on this in the New Yorker years ago too.


So the language is bullshiat unfriendly? No wonder Chomsky is fighting this so much.
 
2012-03-24 10:26:24 PM

turbidum: WhyteRaven74: turbidum: Maybe he hasn't fully explained UG, so what?

He keeps moving the goalposts and when someone points out a flaw he twists things around so he can go "Flaw? What flaw?"

Again, so what? Does that discredit all of UG? It's not like he's the only one working in the field.


Scientologists do a lot of good for humanity as a whole. Look at all the good, wholesome entertainment they make for the world audience. Just because their methods produce good results doesn't mean they're not a bugfark crazy cult of personality striving to legitimize something that doesn't really need to exist.
 
2012-03-24 10:27:33 PM

doglover: Scientologists do a lot of good for humanity as a whole. Look at all the good, wholesome entertainment they make for the world audience.


Apparently you've never seen a Tom Cruise movie.
 
2012-03-24 10:36:48 PM

machoprogrammer: mat catastrophe

Besides the lameness of using a xkcd comic, he did that with the whole Khmer Rouge thing and Vietnamese communists (he said the US was actually responsible for the CAmbodians deaths, NOT Pol Pot, and said that the Vietnamese communists were achieving wonderful things after the Vietnam war) and the whole Bosnian Muslim thing (he derided the US for getting involved in the ICC stuff for the Bosnian Muslims against the genocide committed against them, saying it had to be the US trying to use them for some kind of gain).


That is not an example of what was said. What was said is that Chomsky changes his positions based on how the US currently feels about something.
 
2012-03-24 10:39:43 PM

OgreMagi: doglover: Scientologists do a lot of good for humanity as a whole. Look at all the good, wholesome entertainment they make for the world audience.

Apparently you've never seen a Tom Cruise movie.


Issac Hayes was a Scientologist. If you don't like Chef, I don't know how to help you.
 
2012-03-24 10:46:52 PM

WhyteRaven74: turbidum: Does that discredit all of UG?

Fundamentally yes. It either is something, or it's not. You can't keep performing intellectual gymnastics to distort things and move things around to try to whitewash any holes.


If I have a car and I start attaching on a whole bunch of tacky shiat onto it that make it not be able to go because it's too heavy, does that mean I don't still have a working car underneath it all if I detach the tacky shiat?

/ha! of course I'd end up arguing linguistics on fark with another guy who's into dudes; linguistics was a pretty gay major in undergrad. in my class alone, of about ten students, there were four of us queer guys and one queer girl.
 
2012-03-24 10:51:29 PM

WhyteRaven74: Straelbora: , are expected to utilize the same pre-programmed language structures as all other humans do.

Except that grammar is so varied, that claiming there's some pre-wired grammar is at best a questionable claim.


I thought this was the crux of the debate. Am I missing something?
 
2012-03-24 10:57:28 PM
So if I follow, Everett says that infinite recursion doesn't exist in the Pirahã language, but its absence seems to me to be a byproduct of culture. It's not that they can't use recursion, they simply don't.

What am I missing here?
 
2012-03-24 10:59:59 PM

christianity: WhyteRaven74: Straelbora: , are expected to utilize the same pre-programmed language structures as all other humans do.

Except that grammar is so varied, that claiming there's some pre-wired grammar is at best a questionable claim.

I thought this was the crux of the debate. Am I missing something?

In linguistics, the poverty of the stimulus (POTS) is the assertion that natural language grammar is unlearnable given the relatively limited data available to children learning a language, and therefore that this knowledge is supplemented with some sort of innate linguistic capacity. As such, the argument strikes against empiricist accounts of language acquisition and is usually construed as being in favor of linguistic nativism.[citation needed]

Nativists claim that humans are born with a specific representational adaptation for language that both funds and limits their competence to acquire specific types of natural languages over the course of their cognitive development and linguistic maturation. The argument is now generally used to support theories and hypotheses of generative grammar. The name was coined by Chomsky in his work Rules and Representations.[1] The thesis emerged out of several of Chomsky's writings on the issue of language acquisition. The argument has long been controversial within linguistics, forming the backbone for the theory of universal grammar.


In other words, Chomsky's a monolingual hack.
 
2012-03-24 11:06:27 PM

doglover: turbidum: Depends on the school and the major. For hard science undergrads, it was just a final lab report essentially. For history undergrads, it was a 50-page paper.

No one I know had anything like this for a bachelor's. It was all about credits. Master's and PhD, yes, but undergrad?


I did one. It was optional for most, but if you wanted to graduate with departmental honors (Anthropology in my case) you had to do one.
 
2012-03-24 11:09:59 PM

turbidum: 6. There seems to be an agreement among neutral parties who have vetted his work that there is indeed recursion in Pirahã. What it seems clear Pirahã doesn't have is infinite recursion.


To be fair though, the test of the hypothesis of infinite recursion is still underway, and will be for quite some time.
 
2012-03-24 11:20:21 PM

doglover: christianity: WhyteRaven74: Straelbora: , are expected to utilize the same pre-programmed language structures as all other humans do.

Except that grammar is so varied, that claiming there's some pre-wired grammar is at best a questionable claim.

I thought this was the crux of the debate. Am I missing something?

In linguistics, the poverty of the stimulus (POTS) is the assertion that natural language grammar is unlearnable given the relatively limited data available to children learning a language, and therefore that this knowledge is supplemented with some sort of innate linguistic capacity. As such, the argument strikes against empiricist accounts of language acquisition and is usually construed as being in favor of linguistic nativism.[citation needed]

Nativists claim that humans are born with a specific representational adaptation for language that both funds and limits their competence to acquire specific types of natural languages over the course of their cognitive development and linguistic maturation. The argument is now generally used to support theories and hypotheses of generative grammar. The name was coined by Chomsky in his work Rules and Representations.[1] The thesis emerged out of several of Chomsky's writings on the issue of language acquisition. The argument has long been controversial within linguistics, forming the backbone for the theory of universal grammar.

In other words, Chomsky's a monolingual hack.


I admit I have no background in this subject, but I don't get the feeling he's a hack and I can't follow how you concluded that from your quote. I have studied formal grammars (within the context of recursion theory, which is essentially pure math) and his contributions there didn't seem trivial, so I'm skeptical that he hasn't made valuable contributions. It sounds like the problem is once he had established himself as a heavyweight in the field, his stubbornness and arrogance polarized the entire discipline, which is a toxic environment for research. I'm guessing if he hadn't been so harsh towards competing theories his contributions would be much more respected.

/talking out my ass, feel free to correct me
 
2012-03-24 11:32:34 PM

RevCarter: So if I follow, Everett says that infinite recursion doesn't exist in the Pirahã language, but its absence seems to me to be a byproduct of culture. It's not that they can't use recursion, they simply don't.

What am I missing here?


A -> aA | a

Out of all the pretty cool math problems behind formal languages, including efficiency and NP-completeness, the best minds in the discipline got stuck somewhere right around context sensitivity. That's awesome.
 
2012-03-24 11:33:29 PM

RevCarter: It's not that they can't use recursion, they simply don't.


See this is where Steven Pinker would be interesting to talk to. Because how we use language determines thinking to a degree. In effect how you structure the words of your thoughts, determines how you see the larger world. A good example is the three laws of classical logic. In Western thinking we aren't even aware they're there, like the concept of the excluded middle. But not every culture has that concept. And it does affect how they see things. Another example is genders. There are languages with more than three genders, masculine, feminine and neuter, and sure enough how those who speak those languages see the world is quite a bit different from how we see the world. Whereas to us it is self-evident that a person is male or female, to them it is equally self-evidence that a person is male, female, or a third gender, or something in between, depending on the exact culture.
 
2012-03-24 11:35:16 PM

christianity: WhyteRaven74: Straelbora: , are expected to utilize the same pre-programmed language structures as all other humans do.

Except that grammar is so varied, that claiming there's some pre-wired grammar is at best a questionable claim.

I thought this was the crux of the debate. Am I missing something?


Not a linguist, so I'm stabbing in the dark, but my guess is this:

That by Universal Grammar, they're defining certain parts of speech that are universal, such as nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, clauses, etc.

Not that they necessarily need to be assembled in any specific order, but that they necessarily do need to exist.

Linguists, please correct me if I'm wrong.
 
2012-03-24 11:39:37 PM
I'm going back to making sense of Unix. You folks have fun.
 
2012-03-24 11:43:53 PM

christianity: I have studied formal grammars (within the context of recursion theory, which is essentially pure math) and his contributions there didn't seem trivial, so I'm skeptical that he hasn't made valuable contributions.


I'm skeptical pure grammar exists. Though there's a lot to be said for a innate physical component to learning. Not the least of which is that you can teach a flatworm a maze, kill it and feed its body to a different worm and the new worm can then utilize the old knowledge. But if there is some kind of innate grammar, it is certainly not purely human.

I have very little trouble communicating with animals, as rule. It's not linguistic most of the time because of physical constraints, but once you pick up on a puppy's body language they might as well be speaking the King's English. No to mention that as a language teacher most of my time is devoted to pointing out the hundreds of instances where the "rules of grammar" TM don't apply.
 
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