LINGUIST List 7.533

Thu Apr 11 1996

Disc: Economy, Minimalism, Formalism

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <dseelyemunix.emich.edu>


Directory

  1. Stirling Newberry, Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism (and Evolution)
  2. Alex Eulenberg, Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism, re: 7.517

Message 1: Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism (and Evolution)

Date: Sun, 09 Apr 1995 16:02:23 CDT
From: Stirling Newberry <allegrobluesky.net>
Subject: Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism (and Evolution)
Referenced post:

1)
Date: Sat, 06 Apr 1996 19:29:20 GMT
From: RMAllottpercep.demon.co.uk (Robin Allott)
Subject: Re: 7.517, Disc: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism


Linguists generally do not seem to be much interested in evolution but
unless one is a Creationist it is intellectually unsatisfactory to say
that language, like all other human capacities, must have a biological
basis in the human brain and body yet cannot have evolved in any way
compatible with the Darwinian processes which account for all other
animal and human forms and behaviours. It is not good enough looking at
the mystery of language to exclaim O Altitudo with the theologians of long
ago. If one considers what language is as a neural and articulatory system,
it must have accurately functioning links with the perceptuo-motor system.
To say with Chomsky that one cannot see how the features of his various
grammatical formalisms can be derived from the visual system, or the
motor system (Pinker and Bloom) only indicates either the limitations
of our understanding of these systems or something wrong with the
formalisms. There are other specific proposals about the biological and
evolutionary basis of language in neural change or exaptation of pre-existing
systems (Bickerton, Lieberman, Givon, Calvin, myself - the motor theory) but,
perhaps except for Bickerton, they judge that what has to be abandoned or
radically modified are the (rather frequently changing) formalisms of
Chomskyan theory.

- -

This is an issue that has to be approached with care: until we can
determine the proteins that cause the development of specific sections of
the brain, and the mechnanisms by which the particular kinds of
specialization occurs, knowledge we do not have, it is impossible to plot
an evolution, since we do not have the basic data-points to work with.

Adding to the complexity of the problem is that language is clearly an
emmergant system as humans possess it: the individual parts evolved
spearately, and only at a certain point did there become enough functioning
interrelationship between the parts for it to be a boundary in the genetic
drunkwards walk, or in old terminology exhibit selective pressure. Once
this boundary is reached however, one would expect that non-fitting
individuals would be editted out very quickly, which is why every group of
humans exhibits the language forming abilities.

I would warn people that not looking for counter-examples to the current
version of a theory is very dangerous: while selection clearly drives
evolution, it is not clear that our current version of it is either
complete or non-contradictory. Until it is, and this requires rather stiff
proof that we do not come close to possessing, each system, especially
complex ones, must be examined very critically with no hand-waving "well we
know it must come out of our understanding of evolution some how." Nature
is definitive, science is frequently inaccurate, and not the other way
around.

- -

Because language mechanisms can form around not just sound, but sight. They
are not articulated merely by motor mechanisms but by artifactual ones as
well, for example: writing. From this it is clear that attempting to back
figure language as an outgrowth of another system is problematic.


To take an example: one of the most important areas in the brain's language
processing is Broca's area, which has as its other primary function the
organization of memory.

In an linguistically enabled adult, there are, at least, two distinct
memory modes, one is clearly related to, but not neccessarily limited to,
the recalling of traumatic events, the other is not related to traumatic
recall, as far as we can see, and is organized by Broca's area.

It would be instructive to do PET scans on pre-language children versus
non-language adults and nearer great apes engaged in non-traumatic memory
thinking, and attempt to see whether the traumatic mode in linguistically
enabled adults is similar to the non-linguistic modes or whether the
non-linguistic modes are versions of the linguistic non-traumatic mode.

If Broca's area was originally a memory organizing mechanism which extended
to linguistic thinking, then we would expect the latter, if however we see
the former it would be circumstantial evidence for searching for an
evolution path which had it evolve as a linguistic mode, and then extend
into memory organization.

Behavioral evidence would support either model, as would studies of
childhood behavior. It is a case of someone just having to do the data, and
it is only one mechanism among many. Several of the mechanisms probably
pre-exist the current structures of language, and were co-opted as the
language system became a dominant thought mode, and more and more of these
areas time, and selective value, became linguistic mode thinking.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism, re: 7.517

Date: Tue, 09 Apr 1996 11:54:31 CDT
From: Alex Eulenberg <aeulenbeindiana.edu>
Subject: Economy, Minimalism, and Formalism, re: 7.517
On Robin Allott (7.512) wrote:

> Linguists generally do not seem to be much interested in evolution but
> unless one is a Creationist it is intellectually unsatisfactory to say
> that language, like all other human capacities, must have a biological
> basis in the human brain and body yet cannot have evolved in any way
> compatible with the Darwinian processes which account for all other
> animal and human forms and behaviours.

Robin, you seem to be saying that any theory which finds linguistic
categories in more general laws of human physiology or psychology must be
compatible Darwin's theory of evolution in order for it to be
scientifically valid. 

I think what you say is untrue, in particular when you say "Darwinian
processes" (by this I assume you mean survival of the fittest) "account
for all other animal and human forms and behaviours." In fact, Darwinism
can only account for trivial differences, such as variations in shape,
size and color -- but Darwinism does not answer questions about the origin
of truly novel structures. 

Indeed, why should language be "compatible" with Darwinism when Darwinism
isn't even compatible with biology? Darwinism has failed as an explanatory
principle for all of life's basic structures. Why must we depend on it in
our explanation of language? 

Darwinism if poorly supported by paleontology and biology, what with the
lack of intermediate forms in the fossil record, and the sharp
morphological distinctions that mark the various classes of life today.
Yes, natural selection can account for variation of forms (such as the
shape of a bird's beak, the length of a dog's tail, or the color of a
bear's fur), but it cannot explain the supposed evolution of more complex
structures from simpler ones, like bird's feathers from reptilian scales,
or the hard-shelled, amniotic reptilian egg from the water-borne amphibian
egg. What Darwinists do is ASSUME that the variety of present-day forms
was brought about by miniscule, advantageous changes from generation to
generation. They use this ASSUMPTION to account for the variety of life,
DESPITE the lack of evidence, and despite the presence of outright
counter-evidence. 

Homology has been taken as "proof" of Darwin-style evolution. A scale is
"like" a feather in many ways. This, however, does not mean that the one
evolved from the other. Indeed, no one has observed, either in the fossil
record, or in the living world, a form intermediate between a reptilian
scale and a feather. It strains my imagination to even think of such a
form, let alone one would have any survival "edge". 

Is it intellectually unsatisfactory to say that language is not a product
of natural selection? I believe quite the contrary. I find it
intellectually unsatisfactory to say that any of the basic life structures
- feathers, hearts, eyes, hair, kidneys, etc. -- just happened by a
series of "lucky" accidents. 

For a very scientific (not a single reference to the bible) refutation of
the idea of natural selection as the source of radical innovation in
nature, with far more examples than would be appropriate on the LINGUIST
list, see Michael Denton's 1985 book "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis." 

- Alex Eulenberg
- Linguistics & Cognitive Science
- Indiana University
- aeulenbeindiana.edu
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue