RE: [xmca] Silly Offshoots and Dropped Subjects

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Sun Jan 13 2008 - 15:15:49 PST

  Try this:
  See page three, especially--straight out of Saussure! His book "Words and Rules" contains a book length expansion of the "big bag of words and little tool kit of rules" view of language.
  Actually, there's ANOTHER weak point of Pinker that is a little more germane to Andy's paper. As you probably know, Pinker made his name by solving the so-called "bootstrapping" problem, that is, the problem of how children convert perceptual and semantic information into abstract grammatical rules. His idea is this:
  thing noun
  physical action verb
  agent (???) subject
  Parents then carefully avoid passives ("Did you get hurt?") ergatives ("The kettle's boiling!") and abstract nouns ("It's time to sleep!") until kiddies can carry out a distributional analysis based on this rough and ready semantic grammar. (Pinker later modified his hypothesis when he realized there was no way for abstract concepts to develop. Nobody in linguistics ever seems to let a few facts get in the way of a good hypothesis any more!)
  There are all kinds of problems with this, not just the ones that Pinker's been trying to patch up. For example: what happens when parents DON'T avoid these things? And what about foreign language learning? This "bootstrapping" should be unnecessary in foreign language learning because the basic semantic categories are already mapped onto their grammatical correlates. But foreign language learning has a LOWER success rate than first language learning. Why?
  I think Andy's got a better bootstrap, and the best thing about it is that one is supplied free with every pair of ankles. The body IS an "artefact" (in spite of its obvious biological origin) because it is the tool we use in gesture. Gesture is "bootstrapped" as INTONATION and STRESS (or rather, it "ingrows" to become intonation and stress). From intonation we get the basic divide between commands, statements and questions, and from stress we get words.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education
  PS: Thanks for YOUR ref, "The Stuff of Thought". I got it a while ago, but haven't got around to plowing it. But it's moving up the nighttable stack on your recommendation.

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Received on Sun Jan 13 15:17 PST 2008

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