LINGUIST List 9.1131

Tue Aug 11 1998

FYI: Confs List, Universal Grammar (Proof)

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. Peter White, Latest Conference List...
  2. Dr. John Skoyles, New evidence for UG

Message 1: Latest Conference List...

Date: Tue, 11 Aug 1998 10:46:00 +1000 (EST)
From: Peter White <>
Subject: Latest Conference List...

The August edition of the Conference Schedule: Linguistics and Related
Topics is now available at

Sorry for the delay; I've been attending conferences. 30 new
conferences have been added to the schedule.

Peter White
Centre for Language Teaching and Research
University of Queensland, Qld 4072
Tel: +61 7 3365 6893; Fax: +61 7 3365 7077

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Message 2: New evidence for UG

Date: Mon, 10 Aug 1998 18:31:33
From: Dr. John Skoyles <>
Subject: New evidence for UG

Surprising new evidence for UG.

UG has been criticised recently upon empirical grounds. The stimulus
experience by infants no longer seems so poor as Chomsky claims, (i)
given the power of networks to extract grammars (Redington, M &
Chater, N. 1997, Trends in Cognitive Science, 1, 273-281) and (ii) the
existence following grammatical errors of corrective exemplars (for
example Saxton, M. 1997, J. Child Lang, 24, 139-161). Moreover,
universality as a claim sits poorly with the failure of linguists to
table cross-linguistic supporting evidence in the context of the
remarkable degree of syntax-related diversity among languages. Worse,
suggestions exist dating back to the spring of 1994 in this list that
UG has gained a status of being above criticism -- at least by junior
faculty. From outside linguistics, UG does not appear a scientific
data point, more an intellectual 'brand', or a philosophically
motivated research program. Sources for the latter points (Sampson, G,
Educating Eve, 1997; Pullum, G. K, 1996, J. Linguistics, 32, 137-147;
Itkonen, E. 1996, J. Pragmatics, 25, 471-501).

One recent research finding that few linguistics will know of however
considerably increases the neurobiological plausibility for UG. The
body schema by which we experience hands, fingers, feet and toes has
been found like UG to be innate. Since early in this century, reports
have existed of phantom limbs in those born limbless. A question mark,
however, has until now existed over the validity of such reports due
their subjectivity and their implausibility given the known neural
plasticity in adults that erases limb representations following limb
amputation. A recent report has removed such doubts (Kollias, S. et al
[1998], 'Cortical representation of phantom limbs in congenital
teramelia demonstrated by FMRI', NeuroImage, vol 7, section 3 [part
ii], S18). A FMRI study is reported upon a 44 year-old university
educated female born without arms or legs. As long as she can remember
however she has experienced very vivid phantom limbs, for example,
normally shaped thighs with feet and toes that are 'unquestionable
parts of her body'. Indeed, she feels that her 'complete' arms with
hand and fingers gesticulate during conversation. What is novel about
Kollias et al's report is that these subjective experience are backed
up with objective MRI detected activations in her motor cortex areas
when asked to move her phantoms. This research argues strongly that we
are born with a 'neuromatrix' that provides a template for our sense
of bodily extension.

This finding is important to linguistics as it provides something that
has missing until now: a case of neurobiological pre-adaptation for
mental processes that might otherwise be attributed exclusively to
environmental learning. If such a neurobiological preadaption has
evolved for our body schemata, it is not improbable that a similar
pre-adaptation could have evolved for syntax. Thus, UG remains, in
spite, of recent challenges, a probable theory.

Dr. John R. Skoyles
6 Denning Rd,
Hampstead, NW3 1SU
London, UK

Check out my Golden House-Sparrow award winning homepage

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