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Thursday, November 23, 2017

SIMPLE PLEASURES

To clear my mind, somewhat in the way that fancy restaurants serve a bit of sorbet between courses to clear the palette, I just watched this short video of Noam Chomsky speaking, as he has so often before, about foundational matters in the theory of language.  It is such a pleasure to be in the presence of an utterly clear mind.

9 comments:

s. wallerstein said...

Chomsky's mind is the clearest I have come across outside of reading. That he's on "our side" politically is a huge point in favor of the rationality and ethic superiority of "our side".

Jerry Fresia said...

Indeed, an utterly clear mind. I’ve watched this clip, now, three times, enjoying how each thought logically unfolds from the previous one, each sentence practically, a giant step across history.

At the3:10 mark, however, he says that the "sounds" of language are “just a very superficial part of language” in relation to the language design that seems to be part of our DNA, if I am following him correctly. And yet this language design didn’t materialize overnight. Even if it took, say, only 10,000 years to evolve, wouldn’t that evolution have depended on the sounds of communication, as an expressive-reflective dialectic, driving the evolution? I don’t know why he would say that the sounds are a superficial part except, perhaps, in the larger context where he seems to be emphasizing that the design itself is a hardwired thing and chiefly significant.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Far be it from me to speak for Noam, but in another lengthier clip I watched, he argued that human language is not, as many have claimed, an evolution from animal commnication, but instead is an entirely new system of conceptualization only secondarily employed for communication. His reason, as I understand it, is that language is capable of infinite recursive relaboration, something that by its nature could not be simply an extension of finite animal signaling. But obviously you would do better seeking out Noam than listening to me.

Ed Barreras said...

As I understand it, Chomsky’s theory has it that language formed instantly and spontaneously, as a sort of crystalline structure in the minds of just a few of our hominid ancestors. He likens it to the formation of a snowflake. This strikes me as wildly implausible, and though I’m far from an expert on these matters even Chomsky admits that his view shared by a very small minority of linguists. I have read Christian philosophers who invoke this Chomskyan doctrine to argue for a literal Adam and Eve. That is, they accept Darwinian evolution, but they think that the awakening of the Chomskyan language faculty in a pair of hominids — Adam and Eve — represents the point at which God imbued animals with souls and thus created humans.

howard said...

Jerry.

Sound of communication might be necessary yet insufficient for language ability and what was built on top of it, namely recursion, might have been unforeseeable except as a spontaneous adaptation to the environment.
That's how evolution operates, if I remember correctly from university.
There's some bit of spontaneity to it, I think

howard b said...

The term academics use I think is an emergent property. Chomsky's ability to use language is an emergent property, so it's hard to see coming lower in the evolutionary tree

Jerry Fresia said...

Thank you Professor and Howard. But Howard, isn't Chomsky saying that sound was not was not necessary for language ability/design?

Further, I don't know how conceptualization would be possible without rule governed communication. Perhaps the deaf have had insights into this.

Jerry Fresia said...

Regarding languages: I just came across this by Susan Babbitt in her Humanism and Embodiment, in reference to cultural extinction:

"The evidence is language loss: Of 7,000 languages spoken today, half are not taught to children….Of the world’s population, 80 percent communicates with 1 of 83 languages while 3,500 languages are kept alive by a fifth of 1 per cent of the world’s population. And MIT linguist Ken Hale notes that ‘When you lose a language, you lose a culture, intellectual wealth, a work of art. It’s like dropping a bomb on the Louvre’.”

s. wallerstein said...

"Dropping a bomb on the Louvre"?

Isn't that a bit of an exaggeration?

I realize that cultures which disappear may contain valuable ideas and art, but the Louvre does not just show works of one culture, say, that of 20th century France or even of modern France, but contains works going back to ancient Egypt (an African culture), ancient Middle Eastern cultures, ancient Greek and Rome, etc.