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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: May ::
Re: Ideology and Biology
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0562.  Wednesday, 14 May 1997.

From:           Robert Appelbaum <
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Date:           Monday, 12 May 1997 12:01:42 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 8.0552  Re: Ideology and Biology
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0552  Re: Ideology and Biology

As the man says, "_I_ am interested impartially in the truth.  _You_ are
ideological."

That's how a certain kind of argumentative game works, and that's the
game that Paul Hawkins has just played against a recent post of mine.
Nothing personal, but I don't see much point in playing that kind of
game.

However, there are serious _reasons_ for doubting the need to identify a
potentiality with an actual structure, and there are even more reasons
for doubting the wisdom of bringing in the idea of "instinct" in order
to explain language and the mind.  What kind of reasons are they?  All
kinds of reasons.  Some of them quite rational.  (Personally, I think it
would be more interesting to talk about a language "drive" than a
language "instinct.")

As for my claim that universal grammar is dead, I stand corrected.   It
is alive and well in a lot of places.  Unfortunately, I studied
linguistics (and Chomskyan grammar) under a professor who doubted
whether universal grammar had much to do with how any particular
language really works, since he doubted whether it explained what people
really do when they communicate with one another.  (It doesn't really
explain imperatives and intejerctions, for example.  Hey!) He was quite
convinced (and convinced me: I got an "A") that the search for a
universal grammar had exhausted itself and ended up with rather less
than it claimed to have been looking for.  But that is way off the
subject of this list, and though I welcome others to have the last say
on this if they wish (our editor permitting), I will not go any further
into it here.

However, I would like to call attention to the fact that Pinker's _The
Language Instinct_, to which Paul Hawkins calls attention, and which
Hawkins seems to be holding up as a model of value-free science, is full
of remarks such as this:

"Seeing language as one of nature's engineering marvels-an organ with
'that perfection of structure and co-adaptation which justly excites our
admiration,' in Darwin's words-give us a new respect for your ordinary
Joe and the much maligned English language (or any language)." (p. 19)

To some readers on this list this remark will sound like impartial
truth, but to me ... well I won't say it.  But perhaps I am not alone in
noticing echoes of Hooker here-in Pinker and Darwin alike.
 

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