Miscellany (General)

by dhw, Wednesday, September 01, 2021, 10:36 (52 days ago) @ David Turell

Part Two

How children pick up a language

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: 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
www.erbzine.com/mag18/1801.html

"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."

DAVID: 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.

All animals have a “mechanism” that enables them to copy the forms of behaviour and communication to which they are exposed. It is clear from the cases of feral children that once this mechanism has been used in one way, it becomes increasingly difficult for the child to adapt to another way. Are you suggesting, then, that the feral child’s brain is “hard-wired” for wolf language? Of course you’re not. The child copies, and once the brain has adjusted to what it copies, it becomes increasingly difficult to copy something else. Good, solid evidence that the brain is NOT hard-wired for syntax.

New oxygen research
QUOTE: "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.

DAVID: You are always allowed to believe whatever you wish.

Of course, and so are you. That is why we discuss our beliefs (and non-beliefs) to test which ones we find more feasible.

COCKATOOS

QUOTES: "Some wild cockatoos whittle tree branches into utensils that they use to open and dig into the seed-laden pits, or stones, of tropical fruit.” “
“They definitely knew the fruit, and they knew what to do with it,” says O’Hara.

Thank you yet again for another natural wonder. It’s always fascinating to learn just how intelligent our fellow creatures are as they seek or even invent different means of survival. And it’s easy to see how we humans once followed in their footsteps, although of course we have now raced infinitely far ahead of them.


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