Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Berwick-Chomsky project

Some comments were made but they don't seem to relate well to the Berwick-Chomsky project in this book -- my fault by being misleading no doubt.   The various arguments that deal with the evolution of language are listed from Szamadoo and Szathmary (2006) -- alternate theories that explain the emergence of human language; "these include: (1) language as gossip; (2) language as social grooming; (3) language as outgrowth of hunting cooperation; (4) language as outcome of 'motherese'; (5) sexual selection; (6) language as requirement of exchanging status information; (7) language as song; ) language as requirement for toolmaking or outcome of toolmaking; (9) language as outgrowth of gestural systems; (10 language as Machiavellian device for deception; and , finally, (11) language as 'internal mental tool.'"

"Note" Berwick and Chomsky explain in the subsequent paragraph "that only this last theory, language as internal mental tool, does not assume, explicitly or implicitly, that the primary function of language is for external communication.  But this leads to a kind of adaptive paradox, since animal signaling ought to then suffice -- the same problem that Wallace pointed out.  Szamado and Szathmary (2006, 679) note: 'Most of the theories do not consider the kind of selective forces that could encourage the use of conventional communication in a given context instead of the use of 'traditional' animal signals. . . . Thus, there is no theory that convincingly demonstrates a situation that would require a complex means of symbolic communication rather than the existing simpler communication systems.'  They further note that the language-as-mental-tool theory does not suffer from this defect.  However, they, like most researchers in this area, do not seem to draw the obvious inference but instead maintain a focus on externalization and communication."

The above is from pages 80-81 of Why Only Us, Language and Evolution.  "Language as internal mental tool" rang true in my case so I had no problem rejecting earlier views.  This doesn't mean that I don't use language as communication or that I do things without thinking -- I know I do.  I do more things by rote than I ought to.  But if I want to think about something, something I'm reading, something I'm writing, a difficult concept I'm wrestling with, a poem, then language is for me a mental tool.

But Berwick and Chomsky have something more fundamental in mind.  They believe that the use of language "evolved" sometime before 80,000 years ago as an internal mental tool.  They imply that most scientists would stick to one of the other 10 or so theories to explain the emergence of human language; so perhaps I have introduced something controversial after all.  

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