09-Languageorgansandgrammargenes - 10 Language Organs and...

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Unformatted text preview: 10 Language Organs and Grammar Genes Ability to Learn Grammar Laid to Gene by Researcher." This 1992 headline appeared not in a supermarket tabloid but in an Associated Press news story, based on a report at the annual meeting of the principal scientific association in the United States. The report had summarized evidence that Specific Language Impairment runs in families, focusing on the British family we met in Chapter 2 in which the inheritance pattern is particularly clear. The syndicated columnists James J. Kilpatrick and Erma Bombeck were incredulous. Kilpatrick's column began: B E T T E R G R A M M A R T H R O U G H G E N E T I C S Researchers made a stunning announcement the other day at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Sci- ence. Are you ready? Genetic biologists have identified the grammar gene. Yes! It appears from a news account that Steven Pinker of MIT and Myrna Gopnik of McGill University have solved a puzzle that has baffled teachers of English for years. Some pupils master gram- mar with no more than a few moans of protest. Others, given the same instruction, persist in saying that Susie invited her and I to the party. It is all a matter of heredity. This we can handle. A single dominant gene, the biologists believe, controls the ability to learn grammar. A child who says "them marbles is mine" is not necessarily stupid. He has all his marbles. The child is simply a little short on chromosomes. 2 9 7 298 TH E L A N G U A G E IN S T IN C T It boggles the mind. Before long the researchers will isolate the gene that controls spelling . . . [the column continues] . . . neat- ness. . . . The read-a-book gene . . . a gene to turn down the boom box . . . another to turn off the TV . . . politeness . . . chores . .. homework . . . Bombeck wrote: P O O R G R A M M A R ? I T A R E I N T H E G E N E S It was not much of a surprise to read that kids who are unable to learn grammar are missing a dominant gene. . . . At one time in his career, my husband taught high school English. He had 37 grammar-gene deficients in his class at one time. What do you think the odds of that happening are? They didn't have a clue where they were. A comma could have been a petroglyph. A subjective complement was something you said to a friend when her hair came out right. A dangling participle was not their problem. . .. Where is that class of young people today, you ask? They are all major sports figures, rock stars and television personalities who make millions spewing out words such as "bummer," "radical" and "awesome" and thinking they are complete sentences. The syndicated columns, third-hand newspaper stories, editorial cartoons, and radio shows following the symposium gave me a quick education about how scientific discoveries get addled by journalists working under deadline pressure. To set the record straight: the discovery of the family with the inherited language disorder belongs to Gopnik; the reporter who generously shared the credit with me...
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09-Languageorgansandgrammargenes - 10 Language Organs and...

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