Susie's summary of Natural Language...

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Tue Mar 05 1996 - 19:19:32 GMT

It was thought that universal grammar was a spandrel. Except, what
other use could it possibly be used for apart from communicating
information in a way that everyone can understand? The only theory of
UG is that it is innate (inborn) which can't be explained as to why it
happens just like the mystery of the big bang theory.

The poverty of the stimulus theory seems to explain UG better. This
theory explains how children under four come out with completely
acceptable phrases like 'he runned' as it follows the rules of regular
verbs. However, the child can't have heard this from any source because
adults just don't say it; it's not correct. There is simply not enough
stimuli to learn incorrect structures. Even so, the child still
produces new correct structures which haven't been taught. Somehow, the
kid knows how to string together correct sentences without learning
them through some kind of manuel.

Another matter of language is the arbitariness of the sign, this being
that something that stands for something else is known by everyone. Is
that right? Something is unarbitary when an object is used to
represent itself. This object may have specific features that others
wouldn't know, in this way it is unarbitary. Language works with the
issue of the arbitariness of the sign. Words strung together are used
to communicate a meaning. If we had no knowledge of what 'things'mean
then language wouldn't be able to communicate them. The fact that
everyone has a concept of what things mean allow language to strive by
universal knowledge.

Language is needed for successful communication but is grammar?
Pantomime copes without stringing words together in no obvious rule; it
relies on mimmicking (copying others' actions). This is an iconic
strategy, this then leads to symbolism when something represents
(stands for) something else. Symbolism then leads to a functional
advantage of acting out ,to saying words.

Mimmicking can be passed on culturally rather than biologically. One
generation teaches the next to act something out. For example rabbits
learn to thump the grass when something threatening like a fox endagers
theirs and others' lives. Other rabbits show what this means by
previous experience.

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