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Unformatted text preview: Pinker: Language Instinct (Chapter 8: The Tower of Babel) Dr. Swathi Vanniarajan Ling 161: Psycholinguistics Birth and Death of Languages
"Any language is a supreme achievement of a uniquely human collective genius, as divine and endless a mystery as living organism." Thesis of chapter 8
There was one proto language at the beginning though there are 4000 to 6000 languages as of today. Thesis of chapter 8
All these languages are bound by one common universal grammar and the variations can be accounted for by a small set of parameters. Thesis of chapter 8
Languages may look very different from one another but underlyingly, differences are not many. Thesis of chapter 8
We, humans, have an instinct for these underlying similarities and that is what is called genetically motivated linguistic inheritance. Languages do not differ freely and they can be classified under small groups. Rules of a language are computed in the brain. All languages are symbolic systems. All languages have duality of patternings. "There seems to be a common plan of syntactic, morphological, and phonological rules and principles, with a small set of varying parameters, like a checklist of options" (p.239). Implicational universals: if X, then Y apply to all languages (projection principles work in this way). Implications are found in all aspects of language from phonology to syntax to word meanings. Characteristics of English language: word order, SVO word order, words within a phrase also have a fixed word order, English is an accusative language and not an ergative language, subject prominent, & there is no gender markings for nouns Languages can change from one grammatical type to another type relatively quickly, and can cycle among a few types over and over. English has changed from a free word order, highly inflected, topic prominent language to fixed word order, minimally inflected, subject prominent language. Characteristics of English language revisited: English does have case distinctions; like free word order languages, prepositions act as if they are case markers; there are ergative constructions in English language; English can have topic prominent constructions (John and I never liked), English did have SOV constructions (With this lecture I you corrupt), & there are many classifiers for many nouns (a shred of evidence; a blade of grass). Differences among languages, like differences among species, are the effects of three processes acting over long spans of time: Learning (Heredity) Linguistic innovation, and Isolation (Migration) Learning
When an environment is stable, there is a selective pressure for learned abilities to become increasingly innate. Learning
Computer simulations of evolutions show that the pressure to replace learned neural connections with innate ones diminishes as more and more of the network becomes innate, because it becomes less and less likely that learning will fail for the rest. Humans inherit only the principles and parameters. There is no need to hardwire all the vocabulary and all the rules since languages vary only by some basic rules. Innovation and variation can occur in any part of language: Some person, somewhere, must begin to speak differently and the innovation catches on and spreads like a wild fire. One change in a language can cause an imbalance that can trigger a cascade of other changes elsewhere, like falling dominoes. (People's preference for a fixed SVO could have resulted in the erosion of case markings, for example). Many of the signatures of modern English were the result of a chain of effects beginning with a simple shift in pronunciation. Isolation and language contact:
migration and the resultant separation: cultural identity and language change: migration leads to mingling and borrowings: Migration also leads to the creation of pidgins and creoles and languages subsequently. Example from English:
Old English: Faeder ure thu the eart on heofonum, si thin nama gehalgod. Middle English: Oure fadir that art in heuenes halowid be thi name Early modern English: Our father which are in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Contemporary English: Our Father, who is in heaven, may your name be kept holy. Languages disappear for various reasons: by the destruction of the habitats of their speakers, by genocide, forced assimilation and assimilatory education, demographic submersion, & cultural annihilation. ...
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This note was uploaded on 09/08/2010 for the course LING 161 at San Jose State.