91 views

Starting in $1957,$ [Noam Chomsky] proclaimed a new doctrine: Language, that most human of all attributes, was innate. The grammatical faculty was built into the infant brain, and your average $3$-year-old was not a mere apprentice in the great enterprise of absorbing English from his or her parents, but a “linguistic genius.” Since this message was couched in terms of Chomskyan theoretical linguistics, in discourse so opaque that it was nearly incomprehensible even to some scholars, many people did not hear it. Now, in a brilliant, witty and altogether satisfying book, Mr. Chomsky’s colleague Steven Pinker $\dots$ has brought Mr. Chomsky’s findings to everyman. In “The Language Instinct” he has gathered persuasive data from such diverse fields as cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology and speech therapy to make his points, and when he disagrees with Mr. Chomsky he tells you so $\dots$

For Mr. Chomsky and Mr. Pinker, somewhere in the human brain there is a complex set of neural circuits that have been programmed with “super-rules” (making up what Mr. Chomsky calls "universal grammar”), and that these rules are unconscious and instinctive. A half-century ago, this would have been pooh-poohed as a “black box” theory, since one could not actually pinpoint this grammatical faculty in a specific part of the brain, or describe its functioning. But now things are different. Neurosurgeons [have now found that this] “black box” is situated in and around Broca’s area, on the left side of the forebrain $\dots$

Unlike Mr. Chomsky, Mr.Pinker firmly places the wiring of the brain for language within the framework of Darwinian natural selection and evolution. He effectively disposes of all claims that intelligent nonhuman primates like chimps have any abilities to learn and use language. It is not that chimps lack the vocal apparatus to speak; it is just that their brains are unable to produce or use grammar. On the other hand, the “language instinct,” when it first appeared among our most distant hominid ancestors, must have given them a selective reproductive advantage over their competitors (including the ancestral chimps) $\dots$

So according to Mr. pinker, the roots of language must be in the genes, but there cannot be a “grammar gene” any more than there can be a gene for the heart or any other complex body structure. This proposition will undoubtedly raise the hackles of some behavioral psychologists and anthropologists, for it apparently contradicts the liberal idea that human behavior may be changed for the better by improvements in culture and environment, and it might seem to invite the twin bugaboos of biological determinism and racism. Yet Mr.Pinker stresses one point that should allay such fears. Even though there are $4,000$ to $6,000$ languages today, they are all sufficiently alike to be considered one language by an extraterrestrial observer. In other words, most of the diversity of the world’s cultures, so beloved to anthropologists, is superficial and minor compared to the similarities. Racial differences are literally only "skin deep.” The fundamental unity of humanity is the theme of Mr. Chomsky's universal grammar, and of this exciting book.

On the basis of the information in the passage, Pinker and Chomsky may disagree with each other on which one of the following points?

1. The possibility of a universal grammar.
2. The language instinct.
3. The inborn language acquisition skills of humans.
4. The Darwinian explanatory paradigm for language.

1
196 views
2
149 views