Re: virus: Sign memes & Chomsky

Corey A. Cook (
Wed, 09 Apr 97 10:59:28 CT

I'm not a linguist, but I am interested in the field. In fact, I am
considering switching my major to linguistics (the engineering bit just
isn't working out). This may explain why I am so interested in this
thread. But this thread may take a while until it is finished: we
don't have any linguists, and so we are just going to have to "blunder
our way to a better understanding." :-)

I wrote:
>Tony gave a discription of a television show about deaf children in
>Nicaragua, left orphaned by a revolution. One of the things that
>the show asserted was that children instinctivly know grammar rules.
>Unfortunatly, I can't unconditionally accept that conclusion without
>more data. Another model that the data given fits is that, when
>forced to create a new language, children also create new grammar rules.

Tony replied:
>The model you propose can not explain why in all linguisticaly isolated
>environments so far discovered, the grammar (at a high level of
>abstraction) is the same.

It can if you question the statement "linguisticaly isolated enviroment".
I have little data to support my model, and if data is produced that
my model cannot explain, I will modify or discard my model. But a
linguisticaly isolated enviroment doesn't seem all that likely. Consider
two cultures. If you trace it back far enough, they have _something_
in common. (This is ignoring the possiblity of settlement by two
separatly evolved species.) Even then, the grammar will always have
something in common, because no matter what the language is, it is
still describing the same objective universe.

I wrote:
>It seems that each language has it's own grammar rules, developed
>to fit the situation that existed when that language was invented. That
>would explain why you can say things in one language that you just can't say
>in another: one culture has that situation, another doesn't.

Upon reflection, I withdraw my assertion that you can say things in
one language that you can't say in another. It may be that you
can say things more accuratly in one language than you can in another.

Tony also said:
> As I said I think Chomsky's syntactic structures and universal
>grammar has widely supporting evidence from a number of scources.

Again, I form my models to fit the data I have. In light of new data,
I form new models. When I have as much data as Chomsky, our models may

I furthur wrote:
>This just reinforces my desire for a new language since the old ones can't
>express the ideas that we have now, because they didn't have the situations
>we have now.

Tony replied:
> I agree, but to try and design a new language from scratch is
>not sensible (oh fuck what have I come to, advocating being sensible).
>The way foreward is to allow the languages to continue to evolve as they
>have always done.

I never said we have to design a new one from scratch. All we have to
do is examine the one we have now, decide which parts are more of a
hinderance than a help, and stop using them. I am all for language
evolution. The problem is I want it NOW, not fifty years from now.

Corey A. Cook

* The One Universal Truth: *
* Sometimes, you're wrong. *