Miscellany (General)

by David Turell @, Tuesday, August 31, 2021, 16:47 (346 days ago) @ dhw

Part Two

How children pick up a language

QUOTE: "Until the 1970s, most linguists believed that the structure of language existed out in the world, and that the human brain then learned it from infancy. Building on the work of her friend Noam Chomsky, Dr. Gleitman argued the opposite: that the structures, or syntax, of language were hard-wired into the brain from birth, and that children already had a sophisticated grasp of how they work."

dhw: All animals – including ourselves – learn by imitating whatever forms of behaviour and communication are practised by their own kind in the world around them. Feral children for example, may speak wolf language. If then brought into human society, they can learn to use human language, but the older they are, the less proficient they are at learning it. How does this illustrate that human syntax is “hard-wired” into the brain from birth?

DAVID: The studies she did produced her conclusions with normal humans not wolf-raised children.

dhw: Of course, and that is a major problem for her theories. Feral children also have human brains, but quite clearly their human brains COPY the forms of behaviour and communication to which they are exposed - i.e. they LEARN them from infancy, just as they may learn a human form of language later on, but then less efficiently. This contradicts the theory that the structures of language are “hard-wired into the brain from birth”.

DAVID: How do you know feral children have trouble learning human languages? Teenage immigrants have an accent but understand the syntax of their second language.

dhw: Firstly, you have obviously never tried to teach your language to mature foreign students. Syntax is every bit as difficult as accent. Secondly, the problems with feral children have been well documented:

Introduction: The Ape Man and Other Feral Children

"Occasionally throughout our history, civilized society has come across a "wild child" who has grown up in isolation with virtually no human contact. Many researchers believe that we're born with the principles of language, but if a first language isn't acquired by puberty it may be too late -- we just don't have the neurological development. It also appears that there's a particular period in the life of humans when they're ripe for learning languages. Studies of feral children who have had little contact with humans during the critical ages of one through four years show that they've had tremendous difficulty mastering language and reintegrating with humans."

Thank you for this fascinating material. I knew you taught English. The bold is the key. Infant brains are special and fit the theories about built-in syntax, etc. Feral children lose this mechanism if not used is the resultant theory I see.>

New oxygen research
"It's important because the presence of oxygen in the atmosphere is fundamental -- it's the biggest driver for the evolution of large, complex life.'" (David's bold)

DAVID: Note my bold. I don't think oxygen as a driver of evolution. Lots of oxygen allows evolution to advance but the driver is up for debate here.

dhw: It fits in perfectly with the theory that evolution is triggered by new conditions which require adaptation but may also offer new opportunities in the great quest for survival.

DAVID: Yes, if everything evolves naturally.

dhw: By “naturally” I presume you are referring to the theory that intelligent cells naturally adapt to or exploit new conditions. Thank you for agreeing that this is possible. The same argument would of course apply to your God’s programming or dabbling: these still rely on responses to new conditions. The only difference is that in your theory, God looks into his crystal ball and preprogrammes or dabbles the anatomical changes BEFORE they are required – i.e. because he knows conditions are going to change.

DAVID: Exactly. My non-human God understands future needs and plans new designs for them.

dhw: For example, he pops in to operate on the legs of a group of pre-whales, turns them into flippers, and then sends them flapping into the water. I get it. I just don’t believe it.

You are always allowed to believe whatever you wish.

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