LINGUIST List 3.441

Wed 27 May 1992

Disc: Rules, Innateness

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  1. Martti Arnold Nyman, Rules, (in)correct actions
  2. Avery Andrews, 3.427 Innateness
  3. , Re: 3.436 Innateness
  4. Vicki Fromkin, Re: 3.436 Innateness

Message 1: Rules, (in)correct actions

Date: Thu, 21 May 1992 00:58 EETRules, (in)correct actions
From: Martti Arnold Nyman <MANYMANFINUHA.bitnet>
Subject: Rules, (in)correct actions

In Vol-3-371, Alexis Manaster Ramer made a powerful comment on
> Subject: Thrainsson/Andrews/Itkonen on Rules

So far, no one has responded. While I agree with Alexis in many
respects, I feel uneasy about his conclusion:

> In conclusion, I think that linguists should be prepared to
> make claims about observable facts, even if these claims are
> not always correct and even if we are forced to make such
> vague distinctions as that between "normal" and "jocular"
> or "normal" and "erroneous (i.e., unintentional)" utterances.

The problem with your proposal is that the notion of incorrect action
(by mistake, by joke) presupposes the notion of correct action.
Classically, comic effects are due to violations of rule/norm-based
expectations. As far as grammatical description is concerned,
only correctly formed NP's can be enumerated. This is so because
mistakes and other incorrect actions are innumerable and non-enumerable.
In Vol-3-409, Rick Wojcik writes:

>As one who likes Stampean Natural Phonology, I find the 'two-leg' constraint
>an amusing analogy to the way many linguists formulate their analyses. But
>I wouldn't want people to get the idea that Natural Phonology takes experience
>to be the sole factor in language acquisition.

I don't think there's disagreement between Rick and me here. I also think
high of Stampean Natural Phonology. What I find particularly enlightening
in it is its approach to language acquisition: The acquisition of the
phonological structure of one's first language consists in suppressing and
constraining innate & universal natural processes to the effect of adapting
one's innate & universal processes to socially shared rules/norms of
correct pronunciation. (NB: 'to pronounce correctly' = 'to pronounce
like the others (who know how to pronounce)'.) This is _eruditio_ in
the etymological sense of this Latin noun: 'release from the natural state'.

> I'm not sure whether this really contradicts what Martti said, but
>I am a little confused by all his references to 'norms'. I see nothing
>contradictory in describing linguistic systems from two points of view:
>social or psychological. I would tend to use terms like 'norm', 'cultural
>fact', 'institutional', etc., when talking about the role of language in
>society. I find it more difficult to use those terms when describing rules
>that control linguistic behavior.

Well, it depends on what you mean by "rules that control linguistic
behavior". It is your knowledge of socially shared rules of chess that
controls your "chess behavior". If you accept this, you might also
accept the view that your knowledge of socially shared rules/norms
of language controls your linguistic behavior (to the effect that you
may choose to speak correctly or -- perhaps by joke -- incorrectly).
 Norms are social facts, whereas internalizations of norms are
psychological facts. The latter I don't call norms.

Martti Nyman
Department of General Linguistics, University of Helsinki, Finland
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Message 2: 3.427 Innateness

Date: Tue, 26 May 92 10:01:23 PD3.427 Innateness
From: Avery Andrews <andrewsCsli.Stanford.EDU>
Subject: 3.427 Innateness

Re Stemberger on inntates (Linguist 3 427)

>I've never understood why it makes any difference at all to linguistic
>theory whether highly language-specific information is innate or not.
> ...

On my view, it makes no difference at all, and linguistic investigations
can only address the issue via highly unconvincing arguments from lack of
imagination (`The constraints on clitic-climbing are so wierd! How
could anything but a language-specific innate universal explain them?').
I think that it is quite unfortunate that people of tended to make a
supposed fundamental principle out of what is at best a rickety conjecture,
as far as purely linguistic evidence is concerned (there are of course
other substantial arguments for language-specific innateness, such as
the ones Vicky Fromkin has been telling us about, but that's another matter).
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Message 3: Re: 3.436 Innateness

Date: Tue, 26 May 1992 12:20 MSTRe: 3.436 Innateness
Subject: Re: 3.436 Innateness

The fact is that we don't need universals (in the sense of
the elements of a theoretical UG) in order to argue for innate-
ness. Creoles, first language acquisition, aphasia, certain
processing facts, etc. do it for us. Universals give us a
framework within which to talk about those more concrete facts.
And innateness is a theory about universals.

If linguistic theory is a theory about the human language
faculty, and language is an undeniable property of humans
(which I suppose not many linguists will argue with, quite
independently of the animal-language issue), then innateness
is a theory about this one very important property of being
human. It's what makes linguistic theory simultaneously a
theory within the humanities and a theory within the sciences.
In sum, innateness theory sums up what (many) linguists have
concluded about the nature of language and hence about this
aspect of human nature.

Two suggestions: (1) that we all make an effort to distinguish
remarks about the mind from remarks about biology -- i.e., the
brain. I don't suggest we all become dualists (because that's
not in fact the only conclusion). But claims and theories
about what the brain DOES (mental functions) should be
methodologically distinct from claims and theories about what
the brain IS (how it works in physical terms). We certainly
don't know a whole lot about the brain, but there is no reason
why we should not continue to pursue theories about the mind.
I consider claims/theories about the innateness of language to
be about the mind, and not about physical realities of the brain.

(2) read Pinker and Bloom, 'Natural Language and Natural Selection'
in a recent (1990?) issue of BBS, and all the peer commentary that
accompanies it. Reading in current works about consciousness also
make compelling reading. E.g., Dennett, 'Consciousness Explained',
work of Edelman, etc. etc.

Carol Georgopoulos
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Message 4: Re: 3.436 Innateness

Date: Tue, 26 May 92 18:18 PDT
From: Vicki Fromkin <IYO1VAFMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 3.436 Innateness

Would like to second the Pesetsky position (which is probably no surprise
to anyone) but would also like to publicly wonder why the question of
of the innateness of specific bird species' songs is not questioned b
by those who question are argue against built in hard-wired genetic
language specifics. One would think that the more neurologically
complex the species the more one would have to have such geneticallyj
determined capabilities.

Vicki Fromkin
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