Monthly Archives: June 2016

a non-evolutionary argument for language acquisition

“However, there is surely no reason today for taking seriously a position that attributes a complex human achievement entirely to months (or at most years) of experience, rather than to millions of years of evolution or to principles of neural organization that may be even more deeply grounded in physical law – a position that would, furthermore, yield the conclusion that man is, apparently, unique among animals in the way in which he acquires knowl­edge.” (Noam Chomsky, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, p. 59)

 

 

“[L]et me just note that Chomsky points out the balance between learning and evolution (1965: 59): “There is surely no reason today for taking seriously a position that attributes a complex human achievement entirely to months (or at most years) of experience, rather than to millions of years of evolution. . . .” That is, the more properties of language we can attribute to evolution, the easier language acquisition is for the child.

But Chomsky immediately hedges his bets on evolutionary justification of Universal Grammar, and continues: “or to principles of neural organization that may be even more deeply grounded in physical law.” Though logically possible, this alternative declines to follow the argument through to its inexorable conclusion, and thus it begins to dissociate linguistics from biology.” (Ray Jackendoff, Foundations of Language, pp. 93-94)