LINGUIST List 12.1870

Sun Jul 22 2001

Disc: Closing Issue: On Nonobjects of Syntactic Study

Editor for this issue: Lydia Grebenyova <lydialinguistlist.org>


Directory

  1. Robert R. Ratcliffe, Re: 12.1854, Disc: On Nonobjects of Syntactic Study
  2. Whitney Anne Postman, Re: 12.1855, Disc: Next to Last Issue: Nonobjects/Syntactic Study
  3. Dan Everett, Fw: Bows and Arrows

Message 1: Re: 12.1854, Disc: On Nonobjects of Syntactic Study

Date: Fri, 20 Jul 2001 14:33:44 +0000
From: Robert R. Ratcliffe <ratclifffs.tufs.ac.jp>
Subject: Re: 12.1854, Disc: On Nonobjects of Syntactic Study

> From: Lotfiwww.dci.co.ir
> Subject: Dis.: On Nonobjects of Syntactic Study
>
> Dear linguists,
>
> I'm NOT a bit surprised to hear the controversy over the
> existence of Universal Grammar localised somewhere in the mind/
> brain. But I AM surprised when some imply that the existence
> of universal grammar localised somewhere in the mind/brain is
> controversial, too.

My point was that the postulation that ANYTHING is localised in the
mind/brain is controversial, because it begs the question of the
relation between mind and brain, which in turn is the most
controversial question in all of science and philosophy.

The claim that something is located in the brain is meaningful
(=falsifiable) because brains are clearly objects which exist in space
and time. I also assume (unlike behaviorists or positivists) that a
statement that something exists in the mind is meaningful. But the mind,
defined as the domain of knowledge, thoughts, imaginary constructs,
etc., is not a "place" in the same sense that the brain is, because what
is in it--knowledge, thoughts, imaginary constructs, etc.-- are not real
in the sense that neurons, cells, etc., are. Constructs in the mind have
no physical existence in the world of space and time, although they must
be 'real' in some sense because they determine human actions in the
world of space and time.

 Although mental objects have no physical properties, they do have
formal properties, and these in turn must ultimately be linked to the
formal and physical properties of the neurological networks which
support them. But how? Without an explicit theory of the link between
these things, there is simply no rational basis for assuming that an
analysis of the formal properties of a mental construct should lead
directly to a model of the neurological networks which support it. That
is, there is no rational basis for assuming that an analysis of the
syntactic structures of English (or any language) should have any direct
implications for a theory of the language faculty.


 -- -----------------------------------------------------------
Robert R. Ratcliffe
Associate Professor, Arabic and Linguistics,
Dept. of Linguistics and Information Science
Tokyo University of Foreign Studies
Asahi-machi 3-11-1,
Fuchu-shi, Tokyo
183-8534 Japan
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Message 2: Re: 12.1855, Disc: Next to Last Issue: Nonobjects/Syntactic Study

Date: Fri, 20 Jul 2001 21:04:38 -0400
From: Whitney Anne Postman <wap2cornell.edu>
Subject: Re: 12.1855, Disc: Next to Last Issue: Nonobjects/Syntactic Study

In his message "On the Necessary Arbitrariness of UG" of Wed, 18 Jul 
2001, Dan Everett wrote:

>A further illustration might be to consider the possibility of a UT,
>Universal Technology. Most societies, perhaps all, have bows and
>arrows. Are bows and arrows innately specified? Of course not. We can
>see how, given general cognitive properties of humans, bows and arrows
>provide a natural solution to an ever-present problem: eating protein
>that can move faster than us featherless bipeds. Once we recognize the
>utility, the form follows.

Do virtually all children in all societies (past and present), 
regardless of variations in types sensory input (for example, 
children who are congenitally blind or deaf), learn to use bows and 
arrows effortlessly, in roughly the same time frame, without being 
explicitly taught to do so?

I know I didn't. For this reason, I think the "UT" analogy is a poor one.

Whitney Anne Postman
Graduate Student, Ph.D. Candidate
Fields of Linguistics and Cognitive Studies, Southeast Asia Program
campus address: Morrill Hall, Dept. of Linguistics, Ithaca N.Y. 14853-4701
http://www.people.cornell.edu/pages/wap2/
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Message 3: Fw: Bows and Arrows

Date: Fri, 20 Jul 2001 14:58:55 -0500
From: Dan Everett <Dan.Everettman.ac.uk>
Subject: Fw: Bows and Arrows

> > Do virtually all children in all societies (past and present) learn
> > to use bows and arrows effortlessly, in roughly the same time frame,
> > without being explicitly taught to do so?
> >
> > I know I didn't.
> >

In fact, in my field experience in the Amazon, children certainly do make
bows and arrows without instruction (but by observing their parents)
just in case their lives depend on it. The parallel to natural language is
rather transparent in this respect.

Apropos UG and physics, as well, it is worth passing on to the readers of
this list an interesting comment that was made to me off-line.
Another reason that it is inappropriate to compare UG with physics is that
the basic particle building blocks of matter or the universe might indeed 
not be visible, given their smallness or distance in relation to our powers 
of observation. But the positing of an organ in the human body (Chomsky calls 
UG an 'organ') which no one has ever found is quite unlike unobservable 
particles or singularities and a very, very bizarre concept.

Nuff said,

Dan Everett
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