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Language as an innate phenomenon; language and psychology; behaviourism. Language and the Mind Prof. R. Hickey SS 2006. Table of contents. An instinct to acquire an art Chatterboxes Mentalese Baby Born Talking- Describing heaven

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language as an innate phenomenon language and psychology behaviourism

Language as an innate phenomenon; language and psychology; behaviourism

Language and the Mind

Prof. R. Hickey

SS 2006

table of contents
Table of contents
  • An instinct to acquire an art
  • Chatterboxes
  • Mentalese
  • Baby Born Talking- Describing heaven
  • Language, Darwin, Language Instinct and a few Fallacies connected with it
  • Words, Words, Words
  • The Tower of Babel
  • Mind Design
an instinct to acquire an art
An instinct to acquire an art
  • Instinct to learn, speak, and understand language
  • Language = wonder of the natural world
  • Language = preeminent trait
  • Cognitive science
an instinct to acquire an art4
An instinct to acquire an art
  • How do children learn language?
  • Language = complex, specialized skill
  • Cognitive scientist: language = psychological faculty, a mental organ, a neural system, and a computational module
  • Conception of language as an instinct was first articulated in 1871 by Darwin
an instinct to acquire an art5
An instinct to acquire an art
  • Most famous argument that language is an instinct comes from Noam Chomsky
  • Every sentence is a brand-new combination of words
  • Children develop complex grammars rapidly and without instruction and grow up to give consistent interpretations to new sentence construction
why should anyone believe that human language is part of human biology an instinct at all

Why should anyone believe that human language is part of human biology – an instinct – at all ?

  • 1920s : Discovering of unexplored country
  • Jabber = language
  • Myth: working-class people and less educated members of middle class speak a simpler language
  • BEV another language?
  • He be working
  • He working
  • Language development in children
  • Children reinvent language
  • How do particular languages arose in the world today?
  • Mixed slaves
  • Pidgin = language of the slaves
  • Creole = language that results when children make a pidgin their native tongue
  • Sign languages: no pantomimes and gestures
  • Full language using the same kinds of grammatical machinery found worldwide in spoken languages
  • Parents do not provide explicit grammar lessons
  • Cildren know things they could not have been taught
  • A unicorn is in the garden
  • A unicorn that is eating a flower is in the garden
  • Language and the brain
  • No one has yet located a language organ or a grammar gene but the search is on
  • Stroke or bullet wound
  • Intellectual functions are all preserved

You don‘t need to be middle class, you don‘t need to do well in school, your parents need‘t to bathe you in language, indeed, you can posess all these advantages and still not be a competent language user, if you lack just the right genes or just the right bits of brain



Is thought dependent on words or

Are our thoughts couched in some silent medium of the brain and clothed in words whenever we want to express them?


Pinker says that…

  • we do not think in language or in words.
  • we think in visual and auditory images.
  • we think in abstract propositions about what is true about what.
  • language is a way of communicating thoughts, of getting them out of one head and into another by making noise.

Pinker points out that…

  • words can be ambiguous.

Example: adj. “tame”

→ a tame animal, which is not afraid of human beings

→ a tame topic (tame = boring)

→ two different subjects = two different meanings of the same word

≫Thereforewords and thoughts can't be the same thing.

  • famous essay called "The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax" (myth: Eskimos have hundred words for snow)
  • someone went to a dictionary of the Eskimo language
  • counted the number of words for snow
  • found in first dictionary only two, in bigger ones a dozen or twenty words for snow
  • But: the English language has also a lot of words for snow (avalanche, blizzard, hard pack, powder, sleet, slush)

≠ you think more thoughts or more finely discriminating thoughts

→ if you know a lot about sth., you invent new words to express them (= slang/ jargon)

→Conclusion: if you are an expert in something you are going to have more jargon words for it


We think in visual images:

  • autobiographies of great scientists, authors, poets etc.
  • all of them say that their moments of inspiration often come from a vivid visual image
  • then they have to struggle to find the words to express that image in their mother tongue
  • like Einstein : claimed to have come upon his insight about relativity theory by imagining what it would be like to be in a plummeting elevator and then to take a coin out of your pocket and try to drop it

→Conclusion: language is a very rich part of the mind, but only one part

≫The mind has a language of its own, independent of the language that the mouth uses, which is called Mentalese.

  • speaking = translating Mentalese into English or Japanese
  • understanding = translating English or Japanese into Mentalese depending on which language you actually speak
  • Pinker thinks that this is why we can understand each other, can translate and why we can coin new words when we need them.
  • If words and thoughts were the same thing it would be impossible to coin a new word.

But: when speaking or writing, people often have the sense that they did not express themselves properly

→there are some researches of the subtle shades of meaning within different word orders

Example: "I sprayed paint on the wall“

"I sprayed the wall with paint."

  • sound like synonyms expressing the same thought
  • The thoughts they express overlap a lot, but there's a little difference:

There are two ways of understanding:

1.) the wall is completely covered with paint

2.) there could just be a little dab in one corner

→ even tiny differences in the order of words can convey very subtle differences in meaning


- Mentalese = a way of thinking that is quite independent of language

□people who were born deaf and never learned language = able to express thoughts using sign language (fully expressive, grammatical, complex language)

→are cut off from a lot of our culture (we convey our culture through words)

→ it is clear that they have minds, which are capable of some abstract understanding

  • Question:

Is our Mentalese shaped by language nonetheless (like when you are listening to someone else's speech) ?

  • the contents of Mentalese = supplied by
  • language
  • learning about objects in faraway places
  • learning about abstract concepts from conversations with other people
  • reading.
  • like the entry port into the mind
  • The actual sentences of Mentalese often derive from language (we only remember the gist).
  • the evolution of the human species =

evolution of language +the evolution of language in thought

Chain: think more complex thoughts →puts pressure on you → able to share them → people supplying you with complex language→puts pressure on you → able to have those thoughts

≫a kind of feedback loop, where each one helped the other

  • a question of habits
  • certain language groups habitually cultivate certain states that then they like to talk about
  • in the habit of dealing with different aspects of the world

→ dealing with other people who are also dealing with those aspects

→ going to invent the words to be able to communicate them

  • But the fact that we can invent words is what makes Pinker think that the experiences come first.
  • Mentalese = a way of thinking that is quite independent of language; the language of the mind
  • People think in visual and auditory images.
  • Thoughts are expressed with words but they are not determined by language.
  • Language is a way of communicating thoughts.
  • Language is an instinct, because also deaf people communicate in a way in which a kind of language is used.
  • The fact that people can invent new words shows that the experiences come first.
  • Mentalese is supplied by communication or reading and is, in some way, influenced by culture.
  • Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct
  • ….
  • …..
  • …..
  • Introduction
  • The Stages of Language Acquisition
  • Common Grammar Mistakes
  • Conclusion
1 introduction
1. Introduction
  • The Sun, a tabloid daily newspaper published in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, has the highest circulation of any daily English-language newspaper in the world:
  • On May 21, 1985 the Sun wrote:
  • “ BABY BORN TALKING – DESCRIBING HEAVEN. Infant’s words proof reincarnation exists.’’
  • On June 8, 1993:
  • Why does this only occur in fiction???
2 the stages of language acquisition
2. The Stages of Language Acquisition

- most children do not speak until they are one year old- first start combining words with about 18 months- start speaking in fluent grammatical sentences until they are 2-3

Nevertheless Infants already have linguistic skills when they are born.

2 the stages of language acquisition36
2. The Stages of Language Acquisition

Psychologists Jacques Mehler and Peter Jusczyk:

  • Babies have knowledge of their mother’s language
  • French Infants suck harder when hearing their mother tongue
  • The babies must have learned something in the womb of the mother and during the first days after their birth
2 the stages of language acquisition37
2. The Stages of Language Acquisition

During the first year:

  • Learn the sounds of their language
  • Get their speech system geared up
  • Produce sounds: cries, grunts, sighs, clicks, stops and later laughs and coos ( ca. 2 months)
  • Play with sounds rather then expressing their emotional or physical state ( ca. 6-7 months)
  • Begin to babble: ba-ba-ba, dee-dee-dee,… ( ca. 8 months)
2 the stages of language acquisition38
2. The Stages of Language Acquisition
  • Children who cannot use their speech system during their first years, are retarded in speech development
  • Deaf children babble later and simpler, but if their parents use sign language, they babble with their hands!!!

Why is babbling so important?

  • Infants have a very complicated piece of audio but no manual that shows them how to use it
  • By experimenting with the articulator children learn how to produce all kinds of sounds
2 the stages of language acquisition39
2. The Stages of Language Acquisition

During the 2nd year:

  • Babies begin to understand words and start to produce them ( ca. 12 months)

One-word stage:

  • Infants first words are to 50% objects (food, clothing, body parts, …)
  • Words for actions, motions and routines : up, off, peekaboo, eat, …
  • Modifiers, like hot, more, dirty,…
  • Routines, like yes, no, want ,…
2 the stages of language acquisition40
2. The Stages of Language Acquisition
  • With about 18months language starts to develop very fast
  • Syntax begins with strings of two:

All dry. All messy. All wet.

I sit. I shut. No bed.

Our cat. Papa away. Dry pants.

  • In 95% the word order of the Two-Word Strings is correct
  • There is more going on in children minds then that what the say
2 the stages of language acquisition41
2. The Stages of Language Acquisition

During the 3rd year:

All Hell Breaks Loose:

  • Children's language suddenly becomes grammatically fluent
  • Sentence length increases steadily and becomes more complex
  • The number of syntactic types reaches the thousands before the 3rd birthday

e.g.: before: Give doggie paper and Big doggie

now: Give big doggie paper

3 common grammar mistakes
3. Common Grammar Mistakes

No matter what grammatical rule is chosen, three-year-olds obey it most of the time!!!!

  • Errors in sentences like: Can you broke those, Button me the rest only occur in 0.1%-8%
  • In more then 90% the children are right
  • They are not only grammatically correct in quantity but also in quality
  • The errors children make often follow the logic of grammar
  • The most common mistake is to overgeneralize

e.g.: irregular verbs holded, heared, …

plural -s tooths, mouses, mens

3 conclusion
3. Conclusion
  • Babies are born with linguistic skills
  • They need an input to learn a language
  • Language Acquisition happens in different stages
  • 1st Language Acquisition happens very rapid and is complete
  • Infants only make few grammar mistakes
  • 1 Language acquisition is only guaranteed for children up to 6 years

Babies aren’t born talking!!!


Pinker, Steven 1994. The language instinct  the new science of language and mind. Lane, Penguin Pr.

nonhuman communication
Nonhuman communication :
  • A fine repertory of calls
  • A continuous analog signal that registeres the magnitude of some state
  • A series of random variations on a theme
the design of human language
The design of human language:
  • Infinite
  • Digital
  • Compositional
the seat of the brain
The seat of the brain:


  • Vocal cords controlled by the older neural structures in the brain stem and limbic system


  • Vocal cords controlled by the cerebral cortex
teaching language to animals
Teaching language to animals:

ChimpanzeesGua - cross fosteringViki - cross fosteringWashoe - American Sign Language - about 130 signsLana - about 130 symbols Sarah - PremackeseNim Chimpsky - American Sign Language

Bonobo (Pygmy Chimpanzee)Kanzi - Yerkish, best 'language learner' so far - learnt about 400 symbols.

koko s case
KoKo‘s case:

The claims that an ape is capable of acquiring ASL(American Sign Language)

  • „Language is no longer the exclusive domain of man“


Patterson (Koko‘s trainer)

nim chimpsky s myth
Nim Chimpsky‘s myth:
  • „Everytime the chimp made a sign, we were supposed to write it down in the log…They(the hearing people) were always complaining because my log didn’t show enough signs.(…) I watched really carefully. The chimp‘s hands were moving constantly.(…)Everytime the chimp put his finger in his mouth, they‘d say “Oh, he‘s making the sign for drink,“(…)Sometimes [the trainers] would say,“Oh,amazing, look at that, it‘s exactly like the ASL sign for give!“It wasn‘t.“
typical sentences from a language trained chimp are
Typical sentences from a language-trained chimp are:
  • Nim eat Nim eat.
  • Drink eat me Nim.
  • Me gum me gum.
  • Tickle me Nim play.
  • Me eat Me eat
  • Me banana you banana me you give .
  • Banana me me me eat.
  • You me banana me banana you.
  • Orange give me you.
darwin s theory and the big bang

Darwin‘s theory and the big bang

„If the basic principles of language cannot be learned or derived, there are only two possible explanations for their existence: either Universal Grammar was endowed to us directly by the Creator, or else our species has undergone a mutation of unprecedented magnituide, a cognitive equivalent of the Big Bang …“

Elizabeth Bates

the wrong theory
The Wrong Theory









Trout Frog














Homo sapiens

analogy and homology
„Analogous“ traits are ones that have a common function but arose on different branches of the evolutionary tree

(wings of a bird and the wings of a bee)

„Homologous“ traits are those that were inherited after the same ancestor and hence have some common structure that bespeaks their being „the same organ“ (the wing of a bat, the hand of a human)

Analogy and Homology:
the dna fallacy
The DNA fallacy
  • The findings show that chimpanzees and humans share 98% to 99% of their DNA, a factoid that has becomewidely circulated
the evolution of the chimp human common ancestor
The evolution of the chimp-human common ancestor
  • Complex artifacts are thought t o reflect a complex mind which could benefit from complex language
the beginnings of language
The beginnings of language:
  • 30,000 years ago-the age of the gorgeous cave art and decorated artefacts of Cro-Magnon humans in the Upper Paleolithic(the date most commonly given in magazine article and textbooks for the origin of language)
the traces of language
The Traces of Language
  • Australopithecus afarensis-5 to 7 million years ago(probably the first traces of language)
  • Homo habilis-2,5 to 2 million years ago(caches of stone tools,imprints of the wrinkle patterns of the brain)
  • Homo erectus 1,5 to 500,00 years ago(control of fire, well-crafted hand-axes)
  • Homo sapiens-thought to appear 200,000 years ago(biologically they were us)
„Can the problem of the evolution of language be addressed today? In fact, little is known about these matters. Evolutionary theory is informative about many things, but it has little to say as of now, about questions of this nature. The answers may well lie not so much in the theory of natural selection as in molecular biology, in the study of what kinds of physical systems can develop under the conditions of life on earth and why, ultimately because of physical principles. It surely cannot be assumed that every trait is specifically selected. In the case of such systems as language . . . it is not easy to imagine a course of selections that might have given rise to them.”



Words, Words, Words

  • - sentences are built out of words (syntax)- words are built out of smaller units (morphology) - small units of words are called morphemesEnglish morphology:noun = two forms (ball, balls)verb = four forms (kick, kicks, kicked, kicking)
inflectional morphology

- modifying a word to fit into a sentence (e.g. times)

derivational morphology

- create a new word out of an old one (e.g. add a suffix)


- „glue“ two words together (e.g. noun + noun = new


first rule
First rule

A noun can consist of a noun stem followed by a noun inflection.


Nstem Ninflection

ball -s

second rule
Second rule

A noun stem can consist of a noun stem followed by another noun stem.


Nstem Nstem

foot ball

third rule
Third rule

An adjective stem can consist of a stem joined to a suffix.


Vstem Astemaffix

crunch -able

- verb + -able = adjective

- verb + -er = noun

- adjective + -ness = noun

fourth rule
Fourth rule

A noun stem can be composed of a noun root and a suffix.


Nroot Nrootaffix

electric -ity


messy patterns in irregular plurals

- mouse-mice, man-men

messy patterns in irregular past-tense forms

- drink-drank, seek-sought

- irregular verb forms often come in families

- irregular forms must be learned

when a big word is built out of smaller words, the big word gets all its properties from one special word sitting inside it at the extreme right: the head



over shoot work man

  • 1. Words consist of morphemes2. Regular forms can be formed easily3. Irregular forms must be learned4. New words have the properties from their heads.
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. [....]And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered aboard upon the face of the whole earth. [….] And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. [….] (Genesis 11:1-9)
differences vs universals
Differences vs. Universals
  • 1957:
  • Linguist Martin Joos
  • - Joos declared that “languages could differ from each other without limit and in unpredictable ways, so God had gone much farther in confounding the language.
  • Chomoskyan-Revolution -> publication of “Syntactic Structures”:
  • -a visiting Martian scientist would conclude that aside from their different vocabularies, Earthlings speak a single language
Linguist Joseph Greenberg:
  • -1963 he examined a sample of 30 languages from 5 continents, including Serbian, Italian, Basque, Finnish, Swahili, Nubian, Masaai, Berber, Turkish, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Burmese etc.
  • -In the first investigation, which focused in the order of words and morphemes, he found more than 45 universals.
  • Example: No language forms questions by reversing the order of words within a sentence
Chomsky’s claim is based on the discovery that the same symbolmanipulating machinery, without exception, underlies the world’s languages:
  • -Languages use the mouth-to-ear channel
  • -a common grammatical code
  • -words have stable meanings, linked to them by arbitrary convention
  • -speech sounds are treated discontinuously:
  • a sound that is acoustically halfway between bat and pat doesn’t meaning something halfway between batting and patting
  • -languages can convey meanings that are abstract and remote in time or space from the speaker
  • -all languages have a vocabulary in the thousands or tens of thousands, sorted into part-of-speech categories including noun and verb
A few properties of language are simply not specified in Universal Grammar:
  • -it is upon to each language to choose whether the order of elements within a phrase is head-first or head-last (eat sushi and to Chicago versus sushi eat and Chicago to)
  • -whether a subject is mandatory in all sentences or can be leave out when the speaker desires
we need to understand why there is more than one language
We need to understand why there is more than one language
  • Darwin himself expressed the key insight: We find in distinct languages striking homologies due to community of descent, and analogies due to a similar process of formation.[…] Languages, like organic beings, can be classed in groups under groups; and they can be classed either naturally, according to descent, or artificially by other characters. Dominant languages and dialects spread widely, and lead to the gradual extinction of other tongues. A language, like a species, when extinct, never [...] reappears.
-English is similar to German for the same reason that foxes are similar but not identical to wolves:
  • English and German are modifications of a common ancestor language spoken in the past.
  • And foxes and wolves are modifications of a common ancestor species that lived in the past.
  • Differences among languages, like differences species, are the effect of three processing acting over long spans of time:
1 variation genetic inheritance
1. Variation-Genetic- Inheritance
  • -learning is an option like camouflage or horns, that nature gives organisms as needed
  • -evolutionary theory has shown that when an environment is stable, there is a selective pressure for learned abilities to become increasingly innate
  • -why might it pay for the child to learn parts of a language rather than having the whole system hard-wired?
  • -a reason for language to be partly learned is that language inherently involves sharing a code with other people
  • -an innate grammar is useless if you are the only one possessing it
  • -evolution may have given children an ability to learn the variable parts of language as a way of synchronizing their grammars with that of the community
2 variation mutation
2. Variation-Mutation
  • -some person, somewhere, must begin to speak differently from their neighbours
  • -this innovation must spread and catch on like contagions disease
  • -Change can arise from many sources:
  • words can coined
  • borrowed from other languages
  • stretched in meaning
  • and forgotten
  • -new speech styles then infiltrate the mainstream
  • -people are occasionally apt to reanalyze the speech they hear:
  • orange -> borrowed from the Spanish: naranjo
  • a creative speaker reanalyzed a norange as anorange
3 separation
3. Separation
  • -separation among groups of speakers is the cause that successful innovations do not take over everywhere but accumulate separately
  • -at all times, in all communities, language changes in different ways
  • -some old dialects are still spoken elsewhere:
afeared - afraid
  • yourn - your
  • hisn - his
  • et - eat
  • holp - help
  • clome - climb
From the Proto-Germanic (1st millennium B.C.)
  • The tribe splits into groups and came to speak:
  • -Anglo-Saxon
  • -German and offshoot Yiddish
  • -Dutch and offshoot Afrikaans
  • -Swedish
  • -Danish
  • -Norwegian
  • -Icelandic
4 languages are perpetuated by the children who learn them
4) Languages are perpetuated by the children who learn them
  • -when a language is spoken only by adults, it is doomed
  • The linguist Michael Krauss estimates:
  • -150 North American Indian languages (80% of the existing ones) are going to die
  • -40 languages in Alaska and northern Siberia
  • -160 in Central and South America
  • -45 in Russia
  • -225 in Australia
  • -perhaps 3000 worldwide
  • -only about 600 are reasonable save
the language mavens

The Language Mavens

Hannah Heinrichsen

Language and Culture

Prof. R. Hickey


Hauptstudium LN

  • Rules
  • “Correct English“
  • Language Mavens

3.1 Types of Mavens

3.2 History of the Mavens

  • Standard English vs. Non Standard English
  • Conclusion
  • References
1 rules
1. Rules
  • Prescriptive rules: prescribe how one „ought“ to talk
  • Descriptive rules: describe how people do talk
  • Fundamental rules: create sentences, define the infinitives and list the words…
2 correct english
2. „Correct English“
  • What is “correct English”? Who tells us so?
    • no English language Academy
    • no Founding Fathers at some English Language Constitution Conference at the beginning
2 correct english92
2. „Correct English“
  • Legislators of “correct English”:
    • network of copy-editors
    • dictionary usage panellists
    • style manual and handbook writers
    • English teachers
    • Essayists
    • Columnists
    • pundits
3 the language mavens
3. The Language Mavens
  • Maven from a Yiddish word meaning expert
  • make prescriptive rules or keep them alive
3 1 types of mavens
3.1 Types of Mavens
  • The Wordwatcher
  • The Jeremiah
  • The Sage
  • The Entertainer
3 1 types of mavens95
3.1 Types of Mavens
  • The Wordwatcher

Wordwatchers train their binoculars on the especially capricious, eccentric, and poorly documented words and idioms that get sighed from time to time

3 1 types of mavens96
3.1 Types of Mavens

2. The Jeremiah

Jeremiahs express their bitter laments and righteous prophecies of doom

3 1 types of mavens97
3.1 Types of Mavens

3. The Entertainer

The entertainer shows off his collection of palindromes, puns, anagrams, rebuses, malapropisms, Goldwysms, eponyms, sesquipedalian, howlers, and bloopers.

3 1 types of mavens98
3.1 Types of Mavens

4. The Sage

The sages are known for taking a moderate, common-sense approach to matters of usage, and they tease their victims with wit rather than savaging them with invective

3 2 history of the language mavens
3.2 History of the Language Mavens

18th century:

  • London political and financial centre of England
  • England centre of a powerful empire
    • London dialect suddenly became an important world language
    • Unprecedented social mobility for anyone who desired education
    • demand for handbooks and style manuals
    • Competition: manuals tried to outdo one another by including greater numbers of increasingly fastidious rules that no refined person could afford to ignore
4 standard vs non standard
4. Standard vs. Non Standard
  • The American Language (H.L. Mencken):
    • dialect of English spoken throughout the country
    • didn’t become the standard of government and education
    • the language maven claims that non-standard American English is not just different but less sophisticated and logical
4 standard vs non standard101
4. Standard vs. Non Standard
  • e.g.: the notorious double negative
    • Non Standard English:“I can’t get no satisfaction.” The two negatives chancel each other out
    • “I can’t get no satisfaction.” = “I am satisfied.”
    • Standard English: “I can’t get any satisfaction”
4 standard vs non standard102
4. Standard vs. Non Standard
  • Logical grammatical errors:
    • Everyone returned to their seats.
    • Everyone means every one, singular subject which may not serve as the antecedent of a plural pronoun like them
    • Everyone returned to his seat.
4 standard vs non standard103
4. Standard vs. Non Standard
  • Logical grammatical errors:
    • If anyone calls, tell them I can’t come to the phone.
    • Anyone means any one, singular subject which may not serve as the antecedent of a plural pronoun like them
    • If anyone calls, tell him I can’t come to the phone.
4 standard vs non standard104
4. Standard vs. Non Standard
  • Further Errors:
    • Hopefully, the treaty will pass.
    • Mavens say, it should be used only when the sentence refers to a person who is doing something in a hopeful manner
    • Mavens’ suggestions:
      • It is hoped that the treaty will pass.
      • If hopes are realized, the treaty will pass.
4 standard vs non standard105
4. Standard vs. Non Standard
  • 2 kinds of adverbs:
    • “verb phrase” adverbs, e.g. carefully  refer to the actor
    • “noun phrase” adverbs, e.g. frankly  indicate the attitude of the speaker toward the content of the sentence
    • some other sentence adverbs:

accordingly curiously oddly admittedly generally honestly

5 conclusion
5. Conclusion

The whole presentation is based on Steven Pinker‘s book "The Language instinct.“ In his chapter about the language Mavens it becomes obvious that not all rules the Mavens prescribe make sense, nor are they useful.

6 references
6. References
  • Steven Pinker; The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind, Penguin 1994
mind design
Mind Design
  • 3 models of how the mind is designed
    • Standard Social Science Model (SSSM)
    • Integrated Causal Model
    • Folk Biology
standard social science model
Standard Social Science Model
  • „there is no universal human nature“
  • „there is no existence of a language instinct“


  • „behavior is determined by culture and an autonomous system of symbols and values“
  • „babies are born with only a few reflexes and the ability to learn“
Margaret Mead:
  • „…human nature is almost unbelievably malleable, responding accurately and contrastingly to contrasting cultural conditions…“

John Watson:

  • „Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and rain him to become any type of specialist I might select, …, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.“
all behavior based on interaction between nature and nurture


- heredity factors cannot be ignored

pre scientific model
pre – scientific model

Heredity causes




pinker says
Pinker says:
  • „language instinct is more than dichotomies of heredity – environment, nature – nurture,

innate – acquired, ...

 following model is much better


provides input to

develops and

builds accesses

Heredity innate psychological mechanisms, skills,

including learning mechanisms values,




learning is not an alternative to innateness

important roles for heredity and environment are given
  • no two people‘s behavior is the same
  • a person‘s potential behavior is infinite
  • language comes naturally to us but mental language mechanisms must have a complex design

underlying machinery of the Universal


learning without the basic design built into the mechanism = impossible
  • learning mechanisms designed for particular areas
integrated causal model
Integrated Causal Model
  • language requires its own well–engineered software
  • there is no learning without some innate mechanisms that makes the learning happen
  • learning accomplished by different modules keyed to different domains
  • language = process whereby the different speakers in a community acquire highly similar mental grammars
language is universal among human societies
  • assumption of an infinitely acquisitive learning ability:

- least important: pedagogy

- most learning takes places through


- generalization according to SIMILARITY

similarity = mainspring of the hypothetical



  • similarity spaces must be innate
concerning language acquisition
concerning language acquisition:
  • similarity = analysis of speech inot nouns, verbs, phrases

computed by the Universal



John likes fish. similar to Mary eats apples.

John might fish. not similar to John might apples.

learning a grammar from examples requires a special similarity space
  • there must be many similarity spaces to generalize in a particluar domains of knowledge
folk biology
Folk Biology
  • = cognitive study of how people classify and reason about the organic world
  • people classify plants and animals into species-like groups

gives people‘s intuitive concepts a logical structure

  • reasoning about natural kinds differs from reasoning about artefacts
special intuitions about living things begin early in life
Special intuitions about living things begin early in life:
  • 3-6-month infants:

- know about objects and their possible

motions and their number

  • before 12 months:

- know distinction between living and

nonliving things

  • little children:

- generalization follows the similarity defined by

category membership

  • The language instinct:

- is innate

- suggests a mind of adapted computational


- people all have the same minds

existence of a single universal mental