LINGUIST List 11.2244

Tue Oct 17 2000

Disc: Does "Language" Means "Human Language"?

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. jose luis guijarro, RE: 11.2233, Disc: Does "Language" Mean "Human Language"?
  2. Larry Trask, Re: 11.2232, Disc: Does "Language" Mean "Human Language"?

Message 1: RE: 11.2233, Disc: Does "Language" Mean "Human Language"?

Date: Tue, 17 Oct 2000 10:35:20 +0200
From: jose luis guijarro <>
Subject: RE: 11.2233, Disc: Does "Language" Mean "Human Language"?

Editor's Note: This issue is the second to last posting on this topic.

Hola, buenas!

Let me comment on what Joseph Tomei wrote, namely:

"Am I the only one who objects to this metaphor of two 'crews' that seem to
be fighting over the same ball? Certainly Pinker has advocated evolutionary
considerations and he seems like one of jose's 'crew'. And 'mind-as-a-slate'
seems to be a rather broad overgeneralization of 'the other side'. This kind
of writing generates a lot of heat, but not much light".

In the first place, I am prepared to repent immediately if my generalization
is objected to --no problem about that! The real problem, you see, is that I
tend to write too long emails (something absolutely against the "philosophy"
of this new means of communication, as I have been repeatedly told by friend
a foe alike). Can you imagine what my emails would look like if, instead of
this sweeping generalisation, I had tried to characterise every single model
I am aware of?

In the second place, I didn't dream of making the implication that the two
crews were "fighting over the same ball". On the contrary! I am very much
interested in different approaches to the problems of human language,
especially if they happen to be in the other side of my situation (sorry, if
this new metaphor disturbs somebody!). You see, I have been working on these
problems since 1968 more or less. My first model was the one Michael
Halliday proposed which to me looked a very intelligent and coherent
account. I have been told that the first paper on Halliday in Spain was one
I wrote in those days (which gave me the honour and pleasure of meeting
Michael Halliday personally and admire him even more, not only because his
brightness, but also because of his profound humane personality). However,
in the meantime, I had come across the chomskyan school and they convinced
me by their model which I have used ever since. What interested me in both
cases was their models (and not, say, Chomsky's fight with Skinner or
Piaget) . As you see, I had no problem in switching from one crew to
another, as soon as I perceived that for me things were clearer in one and
not in the other. I don't want to FIGHT! I want to UNDERSTAND, COMPARE and
finally choose the one that does a better job in my view.

I'll tell you what: (1) I DON'T UNDERSTAND models that mix up communication
(a process) with human language (a tool). (2) I DON'T UNDERSTAND models that
mix up linguistic (i.e., pertaining to the tool) aspects with pragmatic
(i.e., pertaining to the overall communicative situation) aspects. (3) I
DON'T UNDERSTAND models that mix up linguistic meaning with pragmatic sense.
(4) I DON'T UNDERSTAND models that mix up mental processes with social
processes as if only one of either existed.

(Which does not mean that I believe there are no "casual *links*" between
those "different *entities*", of course!)

And so on.

Now, If I try to understand and ask and ask... and ask, does this mean
that I want to fight? I can tell you that my intention is not an
agressive one. Perhaps any interpretation to the contrary hinges on
the fact that I was taught to write in English as I've been taught to
write in my own language, in a personal and straightforward way. It's
a question of culture then, not a personal fighting attitude, believe


Jose Luis Guijarro Morales
Facultad de Filosofia y Letras
Avda. Gomez Ulla, 1
11003 Cadiz (Espa�a)
Tel. +34 956 015526
Fax. +34 956 015501
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Message 2: Re: 11.2232, Disc: Does "Language" Mean "Human Language"?

Date: Tue, 17 Oct 2000 14:08:22 +0100
From: Larry Trask <>
Subject: Re: 11.2232, Disc: Does "Language" Mean "Human Language"?

Mai Kuha writes:

[responding to Kevin Gregg]

> Just to check, is it your position that the blind tests described in S-R's
> 1998 book "Apes, Language, and the Human Mind" don't count as a test of
> syntactic knowledge? Let's say, for example, that he complied correctly
> with these two requests (p. 69), in a situation in which the props
> available made it possible to comply incorrectly:
> Go get the noodles that are in the bedroom.
> Can you take the gorilla to the bedroom?
> How would Kanzi manage that, if he had no grasp of syntax? This is not my
> area, so I want to understand.

OK. Let's suppose that the landscape is littered with noodles and gorillas.
Now, all Kanzi has to grasp is this:



So long as he understands that 'get' means 'go and fetch', while 'take'
means 'move away from here', he's home. It is not clear that he needs to
understand any syntax at all in order to comply successfully with these

Is there any evidence that Kanzi can cope successfully with the difference
between 'Take the gorilla to the bedroom' and 'Take the gorilla from
the bedroom'? I know of none.

Larry Trask
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

Tel: 01273-678693 (from UK); +44-1273-678693 (from abroad)
Fax: 01273-671320 (from UK); +44-1273-671320 (from abroad)
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