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<nettime> Re: Disordered thinking through the origin of language
Oliver Luker on Tue, 12 Sep 2006 22:37:27 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Re: Disordered thinking through the origin of language


In order that we understand the origins of language, there are a great
many resources available to us. As part of our current edition - The
Plague of Language - we at Dispatx Art Collective were lucky enough
to be able to conduct a full length interview with Marc D Hauser of
Harvard University, who has just published a book with Noam Chomsky
investigating the origins of language.

The full interview can be read here :  
http://dispatx.com/issue/05/en/plaga/01.html (in Spanish and English)

A number of questions are covered in the piece, starting from
discussion of Hauser's paper The Faculty of Language, written with
Noam Chomsky and Tecumseh Fitch. This paper proposed a distinction
between the faculty of language in the broad sense (FLB) - including
a sensory-motor system, a conceptual-intentional system, and the
computational mechanisms for recursion as the generator of an infinite
range of expressions from a finite set of elements - and a narrow
sense (FLN), which they hypothesize is the only uniquely human aspect
of the faculty, and may only include recursion itself. Subsequent
academic discussion included critique from Pinker & Jackendoff (2005),
and responses from the initial team.

Moving on from that discussion and clarification, we talked about just
why there would be so much controversy surrounding the paper. It seems
non-controversial - so why so much chest-banging? Hauser commented :

"One [reason] is, and it's purely a sociological phenomenon,
independent of the science, and it's this - Steve Pinker and Ray
Jackendoff and I are all good friends, and I've talked to them about
this, and I could have written that paper with either Steve, or Ray,
or the three of us. And there's no question in my mind that this
would have had infinitesimally smaller impact than me writing it with
Chomsky. And the reason is very simple - his presence in the field is
uncontested. Now, for many, Chomksy is no longer today what he was to
the field in the 50s and 60s and 70s. This is an opinion, and I won't
play in that field. But certainly, for many, linguistics and Chomsky
were one and the same in that period. Today, several who were behind
the moves he inspired have dropped off or moved on to other things,
which of course is their prerogative. But some, and I think Jackendoff
is one, think that the moves that Chomsky has been pushing in formal
linguistics are incorrect, and moreover, function to sever the ties
between linguistics and other aspects of the mind sciences."

Involving this level of theoretician is, of course, fascinating.
Hauser's insights into the faculty of language as something which
has its base in simple & powerful mechanisms which we encounter in
many places in the animal kingdom but are only drawn together in
humans bring a whole aspect to the debate which I, for one, found
fascinating.

regards,

Oliver





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