Educating Eve: The "Language Instinct" Debate
Are we creatures who learn new things? Or does human mental development consist of awakening structures of thought? A view has gained ground -- powerfully advocated, for example, by Steven Pinker's book The Language instinct - that language in much of its detail is hard-wired in our genes. Others add that this hold too for much of the specific knowledge and understanding expressed in language. When the first human Eve evolved from pre-human apes (it is claimed), her biological inheritance comprised not just a distinctive anatomy but a rich structure of cognition. Despite the impressive roll of converts which these ideas have gained, there is no good reason to believe them. Pinker's and others' arguments depend on earlier and more technical contributions, by writers such as Noam Chomsky. Many readers take these foundations on trust, not realizing how weak they are. This book examines the various arguments for instinctive knowledge, and finds that each one rests on false premises, or embodies a logical fallacy. A different picture of learning is suggested by Karl Popper's account of knowledge growing through 'conjectures and refutations'. The facts of human language are best explained by taking language acquisition to be a case of Popperian learning. Eve was not born a know-all. She was born knowing nothing, but ably to learn anything. That is why we can find ways to think and talk about a world that goes on changing, today.
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The Original Arguments for a Language Instinct
The Debate Renewed
Language Structure Turns Queens Evidence
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academic acquire adult argues behaviour believe Bergson Berlin and Kay Bickerton brain Chapter child Chomsky's chunks claim clause cognitive common complex concept constraint creative cultural Derek Bickerton Descartes discussion dualism empiricist English speakers evidence evolutionary example experience explain fact genetic Geoffrey Pullum grammar human language hypotaxis hypotheses ideas individual inherited innate knowledge instance intellectual Jackendoff Karl Popper kind knowledge of language language acquisition Language Instinct language learning language universals linguistic nativism linguistic nativists logical means mental Mentalese mother tongue nature Noam Chomsky noun organisms philosopher physical pidgin Plato plural Popper Popperian possible predictions properties protolanguage question quoted Ray Jackendoff reader reason refuted relevant Rules and Representations Russenorsk Science scientific seems sense sentence sequence Simon sort sounds specific speech spoken languages statement Steven Pinker suggests theory things tree structuring true utterances verb vowels words writings X-bar X-bar theory
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