The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0552. Friday, 9 May 1997.
Date: Friday, 9 May 1997 09:22:43 -0400 (EDT)
As far as I'm aware, Universal Grammar is alive and well, and an anatomy
of the two super-rules that describe "all phrases in all languages" is
living in Steven Pinker's *The Language Instinct* (pages 106-112).
Pinker makes clear that "universal grammar and abstract phrase
structures seem to be permanent features of grammatical theory"
Further, when Robert Appelbaum says that "there is no universal
linguistic structure of the mind" (I think he means "in") but instead
simply "a certain kind of mental potentiality," he is simply
substituting one phrase for another: the mental potentiality is the
language structure in the mind.
I imagine that two or three need to be gathered together to participate
in a language, and that language to that extent is social. But what
exactly is this conceding? Certainly not that language is invested in
Appelbaum is confident that the "mind that speaks in and through
language is a social mind." Interestingly, Pinker insists that "the
design of grammar is . . . a code that is autonomous from cognition. . .
. A grammar specifies how words may combine to express meanings; that
specification is independent of the particular meanings we typically
convey or expect others to convey to us" (87). This would seem to
undercut claims of the essential sociality-not to mention the ideology
of the sociality-that speaks through language.
Robert Appelbaum's post is an honest presentation of the ideological
underpinnings of his view: he makes clear that he is committed to
constructivism, and that while constructivism does not exclude certain
things, it does "require resistance to the idea that the social can be
reduced to the biological." Robert Appelbaum is self-confessedly
steeped in an ideology.
But it is not clear to me that the opposite position is "ideological" in
the same way. I don't think that responsible evolutionary
sociobiological opinion would seek to *reduce* the social to the
biological, but the only reason to try to demonstrate that the social is
more biological than we may think is that one thinks it may be true-at
the very least it's tenable and evidence exists to support it. One will
believe it as long as the weight of evidence tends in that direction,
but one's belief is always provisional, and can be discarded or amended
when evidence requires it.
When one is in the grip of an ideology, however, one requires specific
conclusions, as Appelbaum acknowledges he does. Chomskyans,
evolutionary biologists, evolutionary sociobiologists, or readers of the
aesthetic do not seem to me to be ideological in this way.