virus: Chomsky, language genesis.

Tony Hindle (
Fri, 4 Apr 1997 04:16:15 +0100

Ive just watched a brill Horizon program on bbc2 about the genesis and
evolution of language. I am going to summarise what I understand and
hope someone out there will be able to help me improve my understanding.
Ideally an experimenter would leave a group of children on an
island to see if they would evolve a language but this is unethical.
However in Nicaragua after a revolution (18 yrs ago). there were deaf
children scattered all over the place. 50 of these were brought together
at a school (age 14-18ish). Initally kids had only a few rudimentary
gestures and nothing in common symbols. The kids learned to communicate
with one another quicker than the teachers could understand them.
Eventually they brought in U.S. linguist, Judy Kegl. She learned
and studied the new language. She observed that it was a pigeon language
with almost no grammar, plenty of vocab.
Then JK visited a deaf primary school. She said she immediately
was struck by the differences, "species recognition" were her words. She
said of one teenage girl "Its like someone had given her the grammar
rule book".
Experiments comparing sign translations of cartoons further
revealed that younger kids had more fluency and grammar. It seemed that
in just a few years a new fully fluent grammatical language had evolved.
Question was from where?
Enter Chomsky, very quick explanation showing that it seems kids
instinctively know grammar rules. I would love an elegant easy-to-follow
short intro. on this.

Anyway the theory I find fascinating is this:
A pidgeon language first bootstraps into existence from gestures
that hearers still execute. When this is taught to a young child they
translate it through their innate language acquisition device (LAD).
The youngsters start speaking with more grammar.

In Nicaragua the language has gone from pidgin to a fully
grammatical language (complete with its own picture dictionary) in 15

This is food for thought. Suppose that thinkers go through life
learning a new "pidgeon language" in which to communicate the cutting
edge concepts of scientific research (as CotV is doing imho). Then as we
pass them on to the next generation of thinkers they filter it all
through the LAN (some higher order grammar being added). The new
grammatically correct conceptualisations allow clearer communication so
that the next generation of scientific questions can be asked, answers
gleaned and pidgeon language learned. Comments?

Another thought. Could a deeper understanding of Chomsky's LAD
and universal grammar and syntactic structures shine further light on
what higher order properties are good at hi-fidelity replication in
memetic structures?

Tony Hindle.
It is a poor service to the memory of the victims of the holocaust,
to adopt a central doctrine of their murderers.
...Noam Chomsky on the importance of free speach.