Re: Chomsky and evolved language circuitry

From: Joe Dees (
Date: Fri Oct 05 2001 - 03:07:55 MDT

('binary' encoding is not supported, stored as-is) > "Josh Martin" <> <> Re: Chomsky and evolved language circuitryDate: Fri, 5 Oct 2001 13:01:41 -0400
>Damien wrote:
>> At 10:13 AM 10/4/01 -0400, John K Clark wrote:
>> >a small gene (only 6500 base pairs)
>> >on chromosome 7 that is responsible for human speech
>> >proves that there
>> >exist specific circuitry in the human brain that makes speech possible
>> it probably
>> >evolved very recently. Chomsky has been saying this since 1959
>> Curiously enough, he hasn't--he's been quite hostile to specific
>> evolutionary explanations for generative grammar. Steven Pinker, e.g., has
>> tried to combine evolutionary explanations with Chomskyan X-bar theory,
>> etc, but Chomsky always found that level of explanation rather vulgarly
>> reductionist. My sense of it (as a non-expert) is that he regards language
>> as an emergent but highly rule-bound property of the whole brain. `These
>> skills may well have arisen as a concomitant of structural properties of
>> the brain that developed for other purposes' (Chomsky 1980, cited in THE
>This is why the discovery is interesting, actually, and why Chomsky, whose
>opinion on biology is only slightly better than his opinion on politics,
>should welcome it. The gene in question, I believe, is involved with
>regulating the transcription of a variety of other genes during development.
>This means that a relatively small change in this gene could cause a cascade
>of effects throughout development. The summation of these effects could
>allow a brain area developed 'for' another 'purpose' to be involved in the
>production of language. The spirit, if not the letter of chomsky's
>hypothesis. I imagine his reasons for not supporting the evolution of brain
>structures specifically for language comes from the preposterousness of that
>level of complexity arising in the brain on its own. This new finding,
>which shows how a small change can co-opt brain structures for a new
>purpose, is a plausible explanation for the evolution of language.
>I can say more once I have read the whole article, if anyone is interested.
>I am especially interested in S. Pinker's take on the discovery, included in
>the same issue, but my *&@# school does not have an online subscription to
>Nature. That means I am forced to leave my computer to find the article.
I'd advise you to check out UNIQUELY HUMAN by Philip Lieberman, where it is theorized that the cortical hand-eye coordination system, which was evolutionarily elaborated and expanded over millions of years of mutation and natural selection under the environmental pressure to better and better perform hunting, gathering and toolcrafting tasks, was hijacked by a second-order mutation relatively recently and applied also to the mouth-ear nexus; this would allow for the production and parsing of speech. the reason that it would take a mutational hijacking to effect language is that it is a poor candidate for gradual evolutionary development, since incremental expansions of linguistic competence, being a social skill, possess no survival value in the absence of interlocuters, unlike incremental advances in hand-eye coordination, which translate directly into increased environmental survivability for the individual and a positive differential reproduction coefficient.
>Josh Martin

Looking for a book? Want a deal? No problem AddALL! compares book price at 41 online stores.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat May 11 2002 - 17:44:12 MDT