Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Scientists Find Ability For Grammar Hardwired Into Humans

A news item about a study further confirming that humans are hardwired with a universal grammar (I have used the actual University of Rochester's press release heading). My comments are bold and in square brackets.

Brains built for grammar: study, CBC, 6 Feb 2006 ... The properties of grammar may be hard-wired in our brains, according to a study of people who are deaf and isolated from conventional language. Young children normally learn language through exposure to a spoken or signed language, as well as their innate abilities to acquire certain types of language patterns. To tease out the effect of each influence, researchers turn to people who aren't exposed to conventional language. For three years, researchers at the University of Rochester studied three young men in Nicaragua who were completely deaf since birth. The men had no exposure to formal sign language, never had contact with another signer and weren't exposed to written Spanish in school. Nevertheless, the boys developed a unique form of gesture communication. "Our findings suggest that certain fundamental characteristics of human language systems appear in gestural communication, even when the user has never been exposed to linguistic input and has not descended from previous generations of skilled communicative partners," said Elissa Newport, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences and linguistics. Newport and her colleagues found the signers used the same rules of grammar as other users of language, such as the grammatical concept of a "subject." The signers were tested by watching 66 short videos of actions, such as a woman walking. Researchers asked the boys to explain what they had seen in their own sign language. The findings suggest the "grammatical concept of 'subject' is part of the bedrock in which languages form," Newport said. The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ... [See also EurekAlert! & Science Daily.

Darwin theorised that human language was just "the imitation and modification of ... the voices of other animals":

"With respect to the origin of articulate language ... I cannot doubt that language owes its origin to the imitation and modification of various natural sounds, the voices of other animals, and man's own instinctive cries, aided by signs and gestures." (Darwin C.R., "The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex," [1871], John Murray: London, Second Edition, 1922, reprint, p.135)

But in fact, as the Darwinist linguist Pinker points out, it is a completely different system:

"Language is ... different from other animals' communication systems ... Nonhuman communication systems are based on one of three designs: a finite repertory of calls ..., a continuous analog signal that registers the magnitude of some state ... or a series of random variations on a theme .... As we have seen, human language has a very different design. The discrete combinatorial system called `grammar' makes human language infinite ..., digital ..., and compositional ... "Even the seat of human language in the brain is special. The vocal calls of primates are controlled not by their cerebral cortex but by phylogenetically older neural structures in the brain stem and limbic system ... Human vocalizations other than language, like sobbing, laughing, moaning, and shouting in pain, are also controlled subcortically. ... Genuine language ... is seated in the cerebral cortex ..." (Pinker S., "The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind," [1994], Penguin: London, 2000, reprint, pp.365-366)

I have added this to my "Problems of Evolution" book outline, PE 14. 1.7.1."Man ... Uniqueness ... Language ... Universal grammar hardwired"]

PS: Another quote below by early design theorist Robert E.D. Clark on the so-called `God of the gaps'.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

"Let us look more closely at this point of view. If you discover a `God of the gaps', we are told, not only will He be doomed to be squeezed out of existence as the gaps close, but even before that happens He will be a mere hypothesis and therefore useless for religion. Imagine the psychological state of the young man who pins his faith on a hypothesis that may lose its usefulness overnight! Moreover, this God-or rather this hypothesis-will be an enemy to science, for the notion that God resides in a gap will encourage religious people to frighten off scientists with notices of `trespassers will be prosecuted'. For it is impertinent to investigate God by scientific means.... In short, according to the theologians who raise these objections, we must look for God everywhere or nowhere and, according to agnostics and atheists we must look for Him nowhere. The analogy of radioactivity shows how poor this argument is. Early workers did not accept the mutability of atoms because there was a gap in man's knowledge concerning certain rare minerals. The evidence was positive, not negative. There was definite concrete evidence-it was found, of course, in one of the `gaps' in contemporary science (where else could it be found?)-that supposedly changeless elements did in fact change. ... No reasonable person is interested in gaps for their own sake. Christians of a former generation are sometimes ridiculed today for their outmoded belief in the `God of the gaps', but did they, in fact, even in their wilder moments, ever really argue that whatever could not be explained by science was due to God? One may doubt it. Mankind has known for thousands of years that lime gets hot with water (St. Augustine mentions the fact) and that metals change their colours in sulphide solutions, but not till recent times did anyone know why. It was never argued that these gaps in knowledge were a proof that God was performing miracles! Christians in the nineteenth century had not the slightest idea why a strange red spot appeared on Jupiter in 1878 or why there was sometimes a green flash when the sun was setting over the ocean, but they did not account for these rare events in terms of Divine intervention. Mere lack of understanding is not and never has been a reason for seeking a theological explanation. The `God of the gaps' is a modern myth.' Christians have often supposed that they had positive evidence for belief in God, and they have sometimes found (or thought they found) the evidence in `gaps'. But again, where else could they have found it? In like manner the Becquerels, Curies, Rutherfords and Soddys of half a century ago looked for positive evidence of the existence of a new kind of energy. It was not gaps in knowledge per se which interested them. They did not point to Jupiter's spot or the green flash." (Clark R.E.D., "The Universe: Plan or Accident?: The Religious Implications of Modern Science," [1949], Paternoster: London, Third Edition, 1961, pp.10-12. Emphasis in original)

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