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evolution of syntax

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  • Yahya Abdal-Aziz
    Hi all, A small excerpt from http://cogweb.ucla.edu/ep/Conceptual-3.html - ... Syntactic structures ... For a discussion of the conditions under which the
    Message 1 of 2 , Nov 2, 2005
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      Hi all,

      A small excerpt from http://cogweb.ucla.edu/ep/Conceptual-3.html -
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      Syntactic structures
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      For a discussion of the conditions under which the evolution of syntax would
      be favored, see Nowak et al. (2000). [at
      http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Abstracts/Nowak_00.html%5d This is a computational
      analysis that leaves out considerations of how syntax is transmitted.

      Are elements of syntax part of normal ontogenetic development? It is
      somewhat unclear what the claim for an innate grammar amounts to, since
      language was part of the natural environment of human babies in our
      ancestral environment. According to the principle of efficient information
      storage, it is thus plausible that knowledge of grammar is simply stored in
      the child's environment--that is, in the minds of its relatives. What the
      child minimally requires is a set of capacities, most likely a specialized
      and dedicated set, for acquiring that knowledge. A somewhat stronger claim
      would be that a child will spontaneously be able to structure symbols
      syntactically; here is some evidence for this view.

      Spontaneous sign systems created by deaf children in two cultures
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      Deaf children whose access to usable conventional linguistic input, signed
      or spoken, is severely limited nevertheless use gesture to communicate.
      These gestures resemble natural language in that they are structured at the
      level both of sentence and of word. Although the inclination to use gesture
      may be traceable to the fact that the deaf childrens hearing parents, like
      all speakers, gesture as they talk, the children themselves are responsible
      for introducing language-like structure into their gestures. The authors
      have explored the robustness of this phenomenon by observing deaf children
      of hearing parents in two cultures, an American and a Chinese culture, that
      differ in their child-rearing practices and in the way gesture is used in
      relation to speech. The spontaneous sign systems developed in these cultures
      shared a number of structural similarities: patterned production and
      deletion of semantic elements in the surface structure of a sentence;
      patterned ordering of those elements within the sentence; and concatenation
      of propositions within a sentence. These striking similarities offer
      critical empirical input towards resolving the ongoing debate about the
      'innateness' of language in human infants.

      S Goldin-Meadow & C Mylander Spontaneous sign systems created by deaf
      children in two cultures (Letter to Nature). Nature 391 (1998): 279. [no
      link provided]

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      So, waddya think?

      Regards,
      Yahya
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    • David J. Peterson
      One thing that seems to get lost in the shuffle in discussions of innateness is that there are many well-documented cases of individuals who really are
      Message 2 of 2 , Nov 2, 2005
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        One thing that seems to get lost in the shuffle in discussions of
        innateness is that there are many well-documented cases of
        individuals who really are completely isolated from language
        for a long period of time, and who, as a consequence, never
        develop language. This goes for both hearing and deaf children.
        David Perlmutter's observation that in order for a language to
        develop there must be a community is something that comes to
        mind when reading this abstract. Regardless of the differences
        in culture, there is, no doubt, an attempt at communication
        between the children and their parents and others. That is,
        they're a part of a community, even if they share no common
        language. It would seem to me that if language is really innate,
        a community would not, in fact, be necessary, and that there
        could not exist a person without language (barring physical
        trauma, etc.).

        As a general comment, all the evidence I've ever seen in favor
        of innateness has been incredibly underwhelming. I'm always
        open to hearing more, though.

        -David
        *******************************************************************
        "A male love inevivi i'ala'i oku i ue pokulu'ume o heki a."
        "No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn."

        -Jim Morrison

        http://dedalvs.free.fr/
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