Archive | Chomsky

Mom is a horse?!? Tones and Chomsky (吗)

Possible ways to refute the Nostratic hypothesis and Chomsky’s generative grammar hypothesis would be to investigate those African languages which are composed of clicks or to look at tonal languages such as Chinese. Perhaps African click languages use a different grammar, or vary significantly from Eurasian languages? In contrast, though one may claim that Chinese is sung, rather than spoken, and thus somehow fundamentally different from European languages tones also exist in European languages. So looking to refute the Nostratic hypothesis and/or Chomsky’s generative grammar theory is unlikely to result from an investigation of the use of tones in some languages like Chinese. African click languages are a better group to research to see if Nostratic and/or generative grammar hold true. Recall my position is that the nostratic hypothesis is true, which is consistent with Chomsky’s generative grammar hypothesis. However, unlike Chomsky, I postulate that languages are similar not due to inherent brain structures but due to a genetic bottleneck about 100,000 years ago.

Tones in English may be seen with the following examples. When a question is posed in English we use the rising tone. In contrast, when a command is issued in English we ordinarily use the falling tone. That corresponds in some respects to Chinese, where each tone carries with it a connotation; the first tone is the hopeful, the desired, the second tone is questioning, the third tone tentative, and the fourth tone indicative or even imperative.That is consistent with the nostratic hypothesis but also with generative grammar.

Yet, strictly speaking, though tone in spoken Chinese does appear to carry signification, Chinese grammar does not use tone to indicate questions. Rather, Chinese in principle uses particles such as “ma” () at the end of the sentence to indicate question. More importantly, unlike European languages, Chinese syntax does not appear to vary word order to indicate  a question. In Indo-European languages questions are usually indicated with Verb-Subject-Object (VSO). While Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) appears to be the usual a universal syntactic form for a declaratory sentence there are exceptions in languages which use case to indicate object. I do think SVO is the best argument for generative grammar, but even there we see exceptions in European languages, where SVO is varied for poetic effect or other stylistic reasons.  Furthermore, although European languages seem to always use VSO to indicate questions, that is not the case of Chinese, tending to refute generative grammar, but not refuting my Nostratic hypothesis because I aruge that human language evolves. Nostratic is our original language not because we are biologically predestined to one grammar, but rather due to the near-extinction of humans.

Chomsky: Refuted by Feral Children

Another refutation of Chomsky’s generative grammar theory is Chomsky’s understanding of children’s acquisition of language. This is not as bold a claim as my own arguments that Chomsky is wrong because of serious divergences among human grammars, even as I confirm the nostratic hypothesis. The unity of human language is due to a genetic bottleneck, not a genetic basis of language.

Chomsky’s genetic argument for grammar as inherent and universal in human language can be refuted in a less ambitious way by looking at acquisition of language by human children. Chomsky argues that no matter the amount of training, a kitten will not acquire human language, whereas humans do acquire language. And that is generally true, children are noted for their capacity to mimic. Yet, that is not universally true.

Feral children are those very rare children who are not raised by human parents. Often they are said to be raised by animals. They may or may not in fact be so raised. All we really know about the rearing of feral human children is that they did not die of starvation or get eaten. Well, almost all.

A unique thing about feral human children is that they do not acquire language. Even when inserted into society, even when extensive resources are devoted to training such teenaged or adult children — they simply do not acquire human language,(1) being limited to few or even no words relying on grunts and body language, as most animals do.

On the one hand Chomsky could argue this shows the fact that language is biologically conditioned, since most feral children are reinserted into human society after their sixth years of age – mostly as pre-teens but sometimes as teenagers or even as adults. In all cases, they do not acquire language, not in the sense you or I use language. Chomsky would argue that this is evidence that language is biologically conditioned. That does not however correspond to the fact that adults can be as adept or even more adept at language acquisition than children, and that adults face entirely different social circumstances in their acquisition of new language.

However, if human language were an inherent inevitable biological quality of humans then feral children would develop language on their own in the wild. They do not. The reason is because language is a social construct, not a biological inevitability.

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