The Chomsky/Pinker claims about the biological basis of language are just that: a basis. They are based on many facts: the universality of speech in humans for which the only exceptions seem to be extremely rare cases in which no language was heard in childhood: the fact that there are specific areas in the brain that, if damaged, remove specific language abilities (until very recent technology to scan brains, doctors relied on language capacities to know what part of a brain was damaged); the fact--noted by Carroll--that children will construct a complete language from pidgin in one generation; the fact that all known languages have similar "deep structures" of formation regardless of any connection between the speakers. What it means is not at all a mechanical inheritance of words or even particular syntax patterns but an immense capacity for creativity. From about 10 (studies give slightly different numbers apparently) basic sentence patterns in English--which any native speaker knows--an infinite number of actual sentences can be constructed. There is nothing simplistic or simply inherited except the capacity for language and an apparently universal creation of it in humans. Now we are aware that at least some aspects of it are also present in other animals, especially chimps and bonobos, but there is a question about whether they ever construct syntax, as opposed to recognize it. This is all fascinating, but it cannot be discussed by just challenging biology: it is not like inheriting brown eyes or blond hair. Nancy >>> [log in to unmask] 11/01/04 11:48 AM >>> Tom Gray wrote: > > One function of DNA is to provide the heritable basis > for biological entities. It would be difficult to > consider words doing the same thing. It is a common > observation in popular books on language that children > exposed only to a pigdin will construct (collectively? > ) a full language from it. It would seem from this > that language is not learned from listening to the > words but is inherent in the human brain. > > The heritable basis for language lies in the heritable > basis for brain strcuutre. The DNA of language is DNA. > The biological basis of language is the flexibility and general capability of the human mind. Dating of human evolution changes constantly, but one dating by the anthropologist Tattersall estimates biologically modern humans go back about a 100K years, language about 40 thousand. Tattersall speculates (no non-speculative evidence either for or against this) that language was probably invented by children, _several times_, before it was picked up by adults. He instances as evidence for the _possibility_ of this a 'tribe' of monkeys living near the sea, whose food often was sandy as they found it. Young monkeys began to wash it in the sea. Gradually female monkeys began to emulate this practice. The old males never did. After a generation or so it became a "cultural" inheritance of that group of monkeys. (The behavior was specific to that group -- _not_ to the species as a whole.) Clearly that species had the biological (neurological) _capacity_ to learn to wash their food, but the practice was not in the least specifically "inherent" in their brain. The _capacity_ for language, similarly, but not language itself is "inherent in the human brain." Carrol P.S. A 'tribe' of baboons was in the habit of raiding a garbage dump in a particular area. On one occasion the food-stuff was poisonous. Now baboons, typically, are an aggressive species with a strong hierarchical social relations. It happened that the "Alpha" males got all the poisoned food, so all that was left were the 'inferior' members of the 'tribe," the females, and the young. Hierarchy and aggressiveness disappeared in this group of baboons -- AND IT CONTINUED TO BE NON-HIERARCHICAL and NON-AGGRESSIVE in subsequent generations. Moreover, baboons from OTHER groups who joined this group as adults adopted the 'culture' of this group and dropped their preceding aggressiveness. Very few things are _directly_ and mechanically inherited in most mammal species, and this is especially so of primates, and most especially so of homo sapiens. Capacities are inherited. Young rats whose mothers lick them develop curiosity and courage; they are exploratory. Young rats whose mothers do not lick them are incurious and timid.