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Like the scientists of Mendels time, Pinker fails to comprehend that abstract computations are evidence on a par with any other kind of biological evidence. Mendel was misunderstood for similar reasons; as the biologist George Beadle and author Muriel Beadle note, There was no evidence for Mendels hypothesis other than his computations and his wildly unconventional application of algebra to botany made it difficult for his listeners to understand that these computations were the evidence Beadle and Beadle, Although the basic ideas of biolinguistics found a great deal of resistance in the academic fields of linguistics, philosophy, and in some areas of the cognitive sciences, by the early s the results concerning the biological nature of generative grammar had been easily assimilated and well received by many geneticists and molecular biologists, who offered a number of speculations on biology and language with specific reference to generative grammar.

For example, Monod stated that, given reasonable biological assumptions, it is not at all surprising that the linguistic capacity revealed in the course of the brains epigenetic development is today part of human nature, itself defined within the genome in the radically different language of the genetic code Monod, Monods colleague, Jacob also found this idea plausible: According to modern linguistics, there is a basic grammar common to all languages; this uniformity would reflect a framework imposed by heredity on the organization of the brain. Many traits of human nature must be inserted in the framework established by the twenty-three pairs of chromosomes that make up the common inheritance of man Jacob, And in his discussion of modern linguistic analysis, Luria wrote: To the biologist it makes eminent sense to think that, as for language structures, so also for logical structures, there exist in the brain network some patterns of connections that are genetically determined and have been selected by evolution as effective instruments for dealing with the events of life Luria, The immunologist Niels Jerne commented as follows in his Nobel Prize address:6 It seems a miracle that young children easily learn the language of any environment into which they are born.

The generative approach to grammar, pioneered by Chomsky, argues that this is only explicable if certain deep, universal features of this competence are innate characteristics of the human brain.

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Biologically speaking, this hypothesis of an inheritable capability to learn any language means that it must somehow be encoded in the DNA of our chromosomes. Should this hypothesis one day be verified, then linguistics would become a branch of biology. Jerne, 6. Unification, whether in physics, linguistics, or any other science, has many cross-disciplinary connections. One such connection that Chomsky introduced into the linguistic discussion was work from the field of animal behavior or, as it was more commonly called in Europe, ethology. In a review of B.

Skinners Verbal Behavior, Chomsky introduces ideas and lines of arguments from genetics, comparative ethology, and biology in general, alongside a number of other kinds of arguments, in critiquing Skinners functional analysis of verbal behavior, which was based on such behaviorist notions as stimulus, reinforcement, and deprivation Chomsky, For example, he argues that learning, whether of bird song or human language, can be unrewarded; i.

It is, consequently, unrewarded learning, though the resulting patterns of behavior may be refined through reinforcement. Acquisition of the typical songs of song birds is, in some cases, a type of imprinting. Thorpe reports studies that show that some characteristics of the normal song have been learned in the earliest youth, before the bird itself is able to produce any kind of full song. Chomsky, Chomsky concludes that any learning theory must account for the fact that children acquire grammars with remarkable rapidity and to a large extent independently of intelligence, suggesting that human beings are somehow specially designed to do this, with data-handling or hypothesis-formulating ability p.

Complex innate behavior patterns and innate tendencies to learn in specific ways have been carefully studied in lower organisms.

Many psychologists have been inclined to believe that such biological structure will not have an important effect on acquisition of complex behavior in higher organisms, but I have not been able to find any serious justification for this attitude. Chomsky, , n. In the reprint of the review of Skinner, Chomsky annotates a footnote about Tinbergen and Schiller to drive home further the importance of biological analysis: Lenneberg.

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As a further example, we can take Chomskys discussion of the role of primary linguistic data in the process of language acquisition, where it can assume multiple roles; e. He remarks that this distinction is quite familiar outside of the domain of language acquisition in other areas of contemporary biology: For example, Richard Held has shown in numerous experiments that under certain circumstances reafferent stimulation that is, stimulation resulting from voluntary activity is a prerequisite to the development of a concept of visual space, although it may not determine the character of this concept.

Chomsky has introduced a number of intriguing proposals and ideas bearing on the evolutionary basis of human language into the linguistic discussion throughout the years, often in connection with particular linguistic models. For example, in a presentation of the background assumptions underlying what was later called the standard theory, Chomsky makes remarks about principles of neural organization and physical law, which have been echoed in much of his later work see chapter 5 : However, there is surely no reason today for taking seriously a position that attributes a complex human achievement [language or other kinds of knowledge] entirely to months or at most years of experience, rather than to millions of years of evolution or to principles of neural organization that may be even more deeply grounded in physical law.

At around the same time , Chomsky noted the striking conceptual resemblance between the idea that universal grammatical principles determine the class of possible languages and Goethes theory of Urform, as exemplified, e. The idea of the Urpflanze has resurfaced in interesting ways in work in developmental biology. We will explore the idea there that similar kinds of generative principles may be involved in the mental domain; i. Thus the Urform idea ties in in interesting ways with other threads of Chomskys ideas on evolution of language.

Keio Linguistic Colloquium SYNTAX SESSION Professor Noam Chomsky (MIT)

The question of language design has also been one of the central areas of interest in modern generative grammar. Suppose that [filter] 20 belongs to UG. Then it need not be learned, just as universal phonetics need not be learned; it is part of the genetically-determined language faculty. The functional explanation then holds, if at all, at the level of evolution of the species.

Chomsky and Lasnik, We will return to this question in chapter 5. Chomsky noted that although one must abstract away from genetic variation in universal grammar in the initial stages of study, he also emphasized the potential relevance of studies of genetic variation of the language faculty; see chapter 4 for further discussion. At the same time, it would come as no surprise to discover that there is some genetic variation [of the language faculty], and if this could be discovered, it might lead to new and possibly revealing ways to study the intrinsic nature of the language faculty.

It has occasionally been observed, for example, that unusually late onset of language use seems to run in families, and one might find other aspects of language use or structure that are subject to a degree of variability a discovery that might be significant for therapy as well as for research into language.

Chomsky, 8. Around , Chomsky noted that the logic behind what later came to be known as the principles-and-parameters approach to language acquisition was rather similar to the problem of biological speciation, as discussed by the molecular biologist Franois Jacob.

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Jacob had written that it was not biochemical innovation that caused diversification of organisms. What accounts for the difference between a butterfly and a lion, a chicken and a fly, or a worm and a whale is not their chemical components, but varying distributions of these components.

It is thanks to complex regulatory circuits, which either unleash or restrain the various biochemical activities of the organism, that the genetic program is implemented. The minor modification of redistributing the structures in time and space is enough to profoundly change the shape, performance, and behavior of the final product. Jacob, ; cited from Chomsky, c Chomsky noted that the principles-and-parameters model of language acquisition had some of the same properties: In a system that is sufficiently intricate in structure, small changes at particular points can lead to substantial differences in outcome.

In the case of growth of organs, mental organs in our case, small changes in parameters left open in the general schematism can lead to what appear to be very different systems Chomsky, c Jacobs remarks represent a concrete picture of the idea of Goethes Urform, as Chomsky put it see above , the generative principle that determines the class of physically possible organisms. Thus one can envision that the ontogenetic principles-and-parameters model might someday find its place in a phylogenetic principles-and-parameters theory of language evolution.

This theory of evolution would provide an explanatory account of the descriptive theory of language acquisition, in much the same way that an account of language acquisition provides an explanatory account for the properties of language. The program encompassed by these concerns came to be known in some circles as biolinguistics. Under the sponsorship of The Royaumont Center for a Science of Man with funding from the Volkswagen Foundation , and organized by Piattelli-Palmarini, an interdisciplinary meeting on language and biology was held at Endicott House, Dedham, Massachusetts in May Luria and Noam Chomsky.

Luria, Chomsky and participants from the fields of biology, neurophysiology, ethology, linguistics, psychology, psycholinguistics, philosophy, social psychology, biophysics, and mathematics met to discuss the possibilities of collaboration on a variety of proposed topics: If certain areas of the brain, found to be highly correlated with specific language functions, are destroyed, is the ability to carry out the other language functions hampered?

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Can the region of lesion be circumvented? If so, what are the consequences to cortical or cerebral functioning i.

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See Chomsky for a discussion of the technical notions of descriptive adequacy and explanatory adequacy Chomsky, See Piattelli-Palmarini, What feedback effects are observed in adjacent cortical areas? Do certain linguistic functions seem to be dominant with respect to one another? With respect to non-linguistic functions and vice-versa? If they are impeded by lesion, do they reroute to another area of the cortex which then suppresses its normal correlative function? Mutual facilitation? In phonological production and reception?

Semantic orientation? Syntactic composition and decomposition? Why does syntax appear to obey structure-dependent rules of organization computation rather than intrinsically simpler structure-independent orderings?

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The above topics and others concerning the biological foundations of language which are proposed for further investigation are referred to in the report on the meeting by the term biolinguistics. Luria Walker, In Konrad Lorenz and his colleagues traveled to Salzburg to participate with linguists in a symposium on language and biology at the Salzburg Summer School of Linguistics. In addition, Lorenzs colleague Otto Koenig hosted a series of meetings on sign semiotics and language with the Department of Linguistics of the University of Vienna at the Wilhelminenberg research station.

The influences of ethology on the study of language in the s This report makes reference to the study group on biolinguistics already active at M. Piattelli-Palmarini has thoroughly documented the conference and also presented a retrospective on the conference nearly twenty years later Piattelli-Palmarini, ; Piattelli-Palmarini, Lorenz introduced arguments from linguistics into the field of human ethology Eibl-Eibesfeldt, : A strong support for human ethology has come from the unexpected area of linguistic studies; Noam Chomsky and his school have demonstrated that the structure of logical thought which is identical to that of syntactic language is anchored in a genetic program.

The child does not learn to talk; the child learns only the vocabulary of the particular language of the cultural tradition into which it happens to be born. In The Harvard Medical School Biolinguistics Group was formed under the sponsorship of Allan Maxams Laboratory of Molecular Biology to provide an interdisciplinary forum for researchers interested in the biological foundations of language.

Over the years topics ranged over theoretical linguistics, molecular biology, learning disorders, neurobiology of animal communication, neurolinguistics, brain lateralization, neural plasticity and critical periods, aphasia, dyslexia, vision, dreams, computational linguistics, pre-linguistic speech perception in infants, chromosomal language disability, and evolution of language.

Norman Geschwind and Albert Galaburda were to carry out the neurological part of the collaboration. Noam Chomsky agreed to write the introduction to the proposal, but pointed out to me that time wouldnt permit him to actually be in the laboratory doing the experiments not that he had been expected to. It was, on paper at least, the first cross-disciplinary collaboration between neurologists with an interest in the language areas, molecular biologists, and linguists. An attempt was made to get funding from the field of linguistics, but the proposal was neither written nor submitted, since no one would agree to even look at it.

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By the first half of the s, the appropriate subject material had swung full circle. There were now new buzzwords in academia and indus This is a more elegant way of saying that the locus of cross-linguistic variation is in the lexicon, in terms of one variant of the principles-and-parameters model discussed in chapter 3.

For discussion of the application of linguistic and computational techniques to molecular biology, see Collado-Vides, Magasanik, and Smith, In the late s, the peer review panel of a prominent federal scientific agency turned down a modest request for funding for biolinguistics in part on the grounds that it had not been shown that the relationship between linguistics and biology was more than an analogy.

When I asked Samuel-Jay Keyser, at that time Chairman of MITs Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, whether renaming everything cognitive science had actually led to any concrete collaboration between linguists and neuroscientists, he replied that we do dry brain science, and they do wet brain science.

Once again, the euphoria of the early s was reminiscent of the early days of generative grammar, which Chomsky had described as follows At the same time electronic computers were just beginning to make their impact.

Symmetry Breaking in Syntax

The mathematical theory of communication, cybernetics, sound spectrography, psychophysics, and experimental psychology were in a period of rapid development and much exuberance. Their contributions lent an aura of science and mathematics to the study of language and aroused much enthusiasm, in particular, among those who were attracted by the ideas then current concerning the unity of science. A technology of machine translation, automatic abstracting, and information retrieval was put forward as a practical prospect.

It was confidently expected by many that automatic speech recognition would soon be feasible as well. It was widely believed that B. Skinners William James lectures of offered an account of some of the most complex products of human Much work on psycholinguistics claimed to have shown that linguistics did not meet the criterion of psychological reality see chapters 1 and 2.