The Thought Occurs

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Chomsky Confusing Biology With Language

Chomsky (1980: 48):
I have not hesitated to propose a general principle of linguistic structure on the basis of observation of a single language. The inference is legitimate, on the assumption that humans are not specifically adapted to learn one rather than another human language. … Assuming that the genetically determined language faculty is a common human possession, we may conclude that a principle of language is universal if we are led to postulate it as a 'precondition' for the acquisition of a single language.

 Blogger Comments:

[1] Genes are biological entities.  The expressions of genes are biological entities.  Any phenotypic traits whose genes have been selected because they are adaptive are biological entities.  Therefore, when Chomsky speaks of a genetically determined "language faculty", he is speaking about a biological entity.

[2] On the other hand,  linguistic structure and principles of language are properties of language, not biology, and so are not the expression of genes.

If a language faculty was "genetically determined", there would be genetic variation (alleles) for it in the population.  The language faculty of an adopted child would be less like the language faculty of its adoptive parent and more like the language faculty of a biological parent it had never met, such as a sperm donor.

Genes provide the biological capacity for children to learn the language whose expressions are perceivable phenomena in their material environment.  What children learn through a biological capacity and the biological capacity itself are distinct phenomena.

[3] Because the preconditions for the acquisition of language are biological, in contradistinction to principles of language, Chomsky's conclusion that a principle of language is universal because it is a precondition for acquisition is entirely spurious.

The problem Chomsky faces is trying to make 17th Century Cartesian 'innateness' scientifically credible as 'genetic inheritance' in the 21st Century.  Given the huge disjunct between the Cartesian Rationalism (non-Empiricism) of the 17th Century and empirical science of the 21st, he is forced to cherry-pick ideas from biology and present them in a way that disguises the inconsistencies.  In a linguistic community largely ignorant of biology and the history and philosophy of science, and whose institutional status and economic well-being depends on affiliating with his work, Chomsky, who in 1972 said that Natural Selection has 'no substance', remains a credible intellectual force.

By denying scientific principles, one may maintain any paradox.
— Galileo Galilei

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Tuesday, 23 December 2014


One forgets words as one forgets names. 
One's vocabulary needs constant fertilising or it will die.

— Evelyn Waugh

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Van Leeuwen's 'Ideal vs Real' Distinction In Visual Semiotics

Leaving aside their interpersonal function of valuation, the meanings 'ideal' and 'real', like the meanings 'idea' and 'thing', are construals of experience, and, as such, are ideational, not textual, with regard to metafunction.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 7):
The ideational metafunction is concerned with construing experience — it is language as a theory of reality, as a resource for reflecting on the world.
'Real' refers to the material order of experience: things (and other phenomena); whereas 'ideal' refers to the semiotic order: ideas of things (and other phenomena). 

As levels of abstraction, 'ideal' is higher than 'real', and positioning expressions of 'the ideal' above expressions of 'the real' in images is a visual means of representing that ideational relation.

The textual metafunction, on the other hand, is concerned with organising the ideational and interpersonal, as through giving different degrees of textual prominence — e.g. thematic or informational — to ideational and to interpersonal meanings.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 7-8):
The textual metafunction is an enabling one; it is concerned with organising ideational and interpersonal meaning as discourse — as meaning that is contextualised and shared. But this does not mean processing some pre-existing body of information; rather it is the ongoing creation of a semiotic realm of reality.
If it is true that the top portion of an image has a textual function in the construction of an image as message, this is quite distinct from the types of ideational meaning that are likely to be given textual prominence by such means.

Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 85): 
Initial position in the English clause is meaningful in the construction of the clause as message; specifically, it has a thematic function.