מכל מלמדײ השכלתי (duchifat) wrote,
מכל מלמדײ השכלתי

Steven Pinker and the language instinct

1) Я здесь уже несколько раз приводил нравящуюся мне статью механика Уолтера Нолла "Об иллюзии физического пространства". Нолл, ученик Клиффорда Трусделла, занимает этакую махистскую позицию, пространства нет, есть только отношения между вещами, идущую, по-моему, от Лейбница. Это противоположно позиции П. А. Жилина, о которого я тут не так довно вспоминал, верившего в абсолютное пространство и не любившего Маха. Но забавно здесь вот что -- Нолл пытается ссылаться на Хомского и xомскианский подход, правда, в пересказе Стивена Пинкера, в конце статьи даже с гордостью приводит отзыв от последнего:

"In 1997, the psychologist and neuro-scientist Steven Pinker, in his book [P], has a section entitled Frames of Reference, in which he writes:
“Reference frames are inextricable from the very idea of location. How do you answer the question ‘Where is it?’ By naming an object that the asker already knows - the frame of reference - and describing how far and in what direction the ‘it’ is, relative to the frame. A description in words like ‘next to the fridge’, a street address, compass directions, latitude and longitude, Global Positioning System satellite coordinates - they all indicate distance and direction relative to a reference frame.”
Thus, it seems that the predisposition to fixate on a particular frame of reference at any given situation is hardwired into our brain at birth, just as is the ability to acquire language. Which particular frame we fixate on (or which particular language we learn) depends on the environment. Usually, it is the background that determines this fixation. When we talk about motion we mean motion relative to the fixated frame, without being consciously aware that we do so. Our brain chooses the fixation of the frame of reference in such a way that it facilitates our ability to understand our environment with as little mental computation as possible. Occasionally, we may fixate on a frame that is less than appropriate."

I sent a copy of an earlier version of this paper to Steven Pinker. Here is his answer by email, dated Oct 6, 1998:
“Dear Professor Noll,
Many thanks for your kind words, and for sending me your fascinating paper on the illusion of physical space. The central thesis is an interesting consequence of the psychology of space, and quite convincing.
With best wishes, Steve Pinker”


В чем же состоит позиция Пинкера? Хорошая мысль мне попалась в блоге блога Аси Перельцвейг о том, что такое "языковой инстинкт" по Пинкеру (автору книги с соответствующим названием). Пинкер совсем не имел в виду, что язык это "инстинкт" в прямом смысле слова. Его книга направлена против обыденного представления, будто язык это изобретение, наподобие колеса или топора:

"Pinker’s book was addressed to a broader audience, and—like any good writer—he took into account that audience’s (presumed) common knowledge. The assumption against which Pinker focused his argument is that language is a cultural invention, like metalworking or the wheel. This idea that language is something that people “figured out how to do” may seem ridiculous to a professional linguist, but it is still far more commonly believed that Evans seems to realize, even more than 20 years after the publication of Pinker’s book. I find that this notion is deeply rooted among my adult education students all the time. One of the reasons why this assumption is so entrenched, I think, is because many non-linguists often equate language with writing. Not too long ago I had to explain to my students that (Biblical) Hebrew and Yiddish are two completely different languages that have less in common than English and Russian (i.e. many words from the former in the latter, but little grammatical similarity). I later realized that the confusion had to do with the fact that Hebrew and Yiddish look similar as they are written with the same characters. Another question I often get, which also comes from the same conflation of language and writing, is why writing post-dates spoken language by so long (roughly 95% of the time, spoken language existed without any writing). The answer, of course, has to do with the “cultural invention” nature of writing—but not of language—which required a certain level of civilizational development.

But if we are to consider a stricter technical sense of “instinct”, as it is understood by biologists, there is a clincher: as Evans points out, instinctive “behaviour has to emerge without training”. He writes: “A fledging spider doesn’t need to see a master at work in order to ‘get’ web-spinning: spiders just do spin webs when they are ready, no instruction required.” Similarly, baby kangaroos climb into their mothers’ pouches upon being born. Sea turtles, newly hatched on a beach, move toward the ocean. Honeybees communicate the direction of a food source by “dancing” a certain way. Nobody teaches baby kangaroos, sea turtles, or honeybees to do these things and yet they do them. Thus, calling language an “instinct” seemingly suggests that language is a purely biological phenomenon—all nature and no nurture!"

Read more: http://www.languagesoftheworld.info/generative-linguistics/is-language-an-instinct-response-to-vyvyan-evans-part-1.html
Tags: science

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