[b-hebrew] Colors and language

JAMES CHRISTIAN READ JCR128 at student.anglia.ac.uk
Thu Aug 23 06:05:21 EDT 2007


KWR: I am no fan of Chomsky, but my main point of contact with him has been
outside of linguistics, where he has at times made a fool of himself.

But then I tend to be suspicious of any study that becomes overly
theoretical, and I wonder if Chomsky has become overly theoretical. I
prefer field studies over theoretical constructs.


JCR: I haven't met the man myself and so can only 
comment on the scientific validity of some of his 
claims. His claims that we have a dedicated piece 
of language acquiring hardware have strong biological 
reinforcements which are adequately summarised by 
a dedicated chapter in Stephen Pinker's 'The Language 
Instinct'. To cut a long story short there are cases 
of brain damaged patients in specific areas of the 
brain and such damage results in consistent and 
specific linguistic inhibitions. Of particular interest 
is the story of a man who suffered temporary aphasia 
due to a stroke. On recovery, he recounted how he 
understood everything fine (parsing functional) and 
that he was thinking clearly (able to generate 
good conceptual arguments) and that he was aware that 
he uttering complete gibberish (problem with the 
language generation module) but had no control over 
this.

Where I disagree with Chomsky is his idea that we have 
a hardcoded universal grammar that is manipulated by 
switches. The only thing we have hard coded is our 
inductional learning algorithm which works by making 
generalisations from concrete examples. The universal 
factor is, then, our learning algorithm and not the 
grammar. The grammar is merely the product of the 
algorithm.

The other part we have that is universal is our 
cognitive system which is the basis of our 
understanding. The underlying, non verbal language of 
thought is universal but its range may be influenced 
by culture. However, this does not affect our ability 
to understand. While we, in the UK, may have a 
completely different cognitive understanding of the 
word bread to that understood in France, this does not 
affect our cognitive ability to see an example of 
French bread and reach a similar cognitive 
understanding of their version of bread.

In summary, the true universals are:

i) Our common learning algorithm (grammar is merely a 
byproduct of this)
ii) Our ability to reach cognitive understanding of 
objects.

KWR: Is it certain that the language does not exhibit recursion, or is it
that recursion is indicated by clues that Everette has missed? After
all, in their appreciation of Hollywood movies, the people seem to
understand the concept of recursion. Further, Everette implied that
his ex, Keren, might have a better grasp of the language than he,
meaning that if she were a publishing theoretical linguist, she might
be able to contradict some of his claims because she caught clues that
he missed?

JCR: Yeah! I have had similar experiences. One comical 
experience I have had is in my early days of learning 
Ukrainian (last Summer). I wanted to talk about 'going 
in' and 'going out'. I used the only tools I had 
available to me at the time:

i) The verb 'to go' - 'ite'
ii) The concept 'inside' - 'seredenya'

Combining the two, I said something like 'go inside'. 
What they understood was 'walk around inside the house'.
My natural conclusion at the time was something like 
"They don't have a way of expressing going in or going 
out. How can that be? How do I invite a person to come 
in? etc.". Later experiences with the language showed 
me that these concepts do exist and are quite commonly 
expressed, just as you would expect of any language. 
They make use of suffixes 'vey' - 'out' and 'za' - 'in' .
So, in conclusion, I do share some of your skepticisms 
while at the same time, in this case, do not hold 
Chomsky's ideas of recursion to be as fundamental as he 
suggests. As noted earlier, sentences of the type 
Everett claims the Piraha do not use come relatively 
late in a child's linguistic development and are far 
more mentally taxing both from a parsing and from a 
generation point of view that the simplistic versions 
that the Piraha are accustomed to using (according to 
Everett).

KWR: One thing I missed in the report about the Piraha: what are the
stories they tell in the evenings around the fire? Or are they just
silent? Did Everette ever sit in among such groups, or was he never
allowed to listen in because he is a foreigner? The report is silent
on this aspect.


JCR: I should imagine they probably tell stories about 
some white plonker in funny clothes came to the village 
and started trying to get them to do some farming in 
case they ran out of food, followed by roars of 
unanimous laughter and comments like "Don't these 
whiteys know that the forest is full of fresh fruit 
and everything we have ever needed?"


KR: As an amateur linguist I find the story fascinating, even though my main
interest is not in language universals.  As an anthropologist I find the
jump from 'one isolated hunter-gatherer tribe does X' with language and
culture to 'this shows us what people were like in the time when we were all
hunter-gatherers' to be very worrying.  The idea that the Piraha have kept
there culture virtually unchanged for decades and resisted all innovations
from outside is fascinating.  The idea that their language and culture has
remained virtually unchanged for millennia and reflects what everyone's
culture was like X thousand years ago just cannot be supported by the
evidence.

JCR: Yeah! I don't anyone is making any concrete claims 
that the Piraha are *definitely* what the hunter 
gatherers and their languages were like. They just make 
the passive observation that this is what they *may* 
have been like.

Obviously, the Piraha have the same brains and the same 
cognitive abilities we have and the same potential to 
learn any language of any level of complexity that we 
can. Any anomalies in their language are evidently due 
to cultural constraints rather than cognitive 
constraints.

I personally, don't believe there is such a thing as 
'a primitive language'. I believe that Yhwh created 
man and woman together with a language complex and 
functional enough to communicate with each other and 
with their creator. This however, is a statement of 
faith which I will probably get in trouble for by the 
moderators. Keeping this on a scientific and linguistic 
level all I can say is that I have seen no 
archeological or linguistic evidence that any human 
language ever evolved from a less complex language of 
meaningful single syllable utterances.

James Christian Read - BSc Computer Science 
thesis1: concept driven machine translation using the Aleppo codex - http://www.lamie.org/hebrew (thesis1 and resources)
thesis2: language acquisition simulation - http://www.lamie.org/lad-sim.doc (thesis2)














































































this on a scientific and linguistic 
level all I can say is that I have seen no 
archeological or linguistic evidence that any human 
language ever evolved from a less complex language of 
meaningful single syllable utterances.

James Christian Read - BSc Computer Science 
thesis1: concept driven machine translation using the Aleppo codex - http://www.lamie.org/hebrew (thesis1 and resources)
thesis2: language acquisition simulation - http://www.lamie.org/lad-sim.doc (thesis2)

































































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