Blind Item : A girl, a rock & a rabbit

Aug 31 2010 Published by under Blind Item

At the beginning of the last decade, a famous linguist wrote :

“To say that “language is not innate” is to say that there is no difference between my granddaughter, a rock, and a rabbit. In other words, if you take a rock, a rabbit, and my granddaughter and put them in a community where people are talking English, they’ll all learn English. If people believe that, then they’ll believe language is not innate. If they believe that there is a difference between my granddaughter, a rabbit, and a rock, then they believe that language is innate.”

Who is s/he?  +1 If you can link to the relevant Ali G episode.  +2 If you can explain why this statement profoundly mischaracterizes the rationalist – empiricist debate in language.  Hint : Scholz & Pullum may have the answer...

9 responses so far

  • Squillo says:

    Wait, Sonja Henie was a linguist?

    (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

  • Ryan says:

    Chomsky, isn't it? Whoever it is, they (singular they, that is) ignore the fact that humans have pretty impressive general cognition skills that a rock and a rabbit both lack.

  • Ryan says:

    Also, was it cheating if I read the Pullum and Scholz .pdf some time ago?

    • melodye says:

      win! and quite the opposite, of course. i think everyone in language (and out of it?) should read their work =) the two of them make for such an intellectual power couple..

  • skagedal says:

    Still a point for me to grab, I see! Booyakasha!

  • physioprof says:

    I guessed Chomsky before reading the comments! I swearz!

    And also, I think that his statement is actually unobjectionable if interpreted correctly as asserting that the capacity for language is innate, not that language itself is innate. To me, the most interesting insight of Chomsky's was that from an empirical standpoint, it is pretty clear that the language capacity has a very large amount of innate internal structure, and comprises much more than just a very powerful general symbolic learning capacity.

    • melodye says:

      Here's from the Scholz & Pullum (2006) article:

      “Linguistic nativists refer to the constraints they posit on language acquisition as “linguistic knowledge” or “Universal Grammar” (abbreviated “UG”). We are going to assume they mean the following conjunction: (i) language acquisition is constrained by either universal linguistic principles or biases due to language-specialized cognitive mechanisms, and (ii) these are either unacquired or acquired but not learned. The non-nativist, by contrast, denies the conjunction of (i) and (ii).

      Notice that the non-nativist’s rejection of unacquired but language-specialized cognitive mechanisms does not imply a rejection of unacquired non-cognitive mechanisms (e.g., perceptual ones) that constrain language acquisition. And of course the non-nativist view is compatible with general cognitive mechanisms acquiring language-specialized functions over (ontogenetic) time. Disputes about syntax acquisition between contemporary linguistic nativists and their opponents concern what constrains or biases language acquisition, not whether it is constrained or biased. Language acquisition is, for example, unquestionably constrained by quantitative resource bounds and sensory channel limits.”

  • Alex Besogonov says:

    "it is pretty clear that the language capacity has a very large amount of innate internal structure, and comprises much more than just a very powerful general symbolic learning capacity."

    Or is it?