David Adger

nickname: adger
email: d.j.adger @ qmul.ac.uk
affiliation: Queen Mary
website:

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07 December 2014 - David: Problems with Evans #1: linguists don't use the term 'instinct': it's a shorthand Pinker came up with. We talk of an innate capacity triggered by experience. This is rhetorical misdirection. #2 Evans misunderstands the difference between typological similarities/differences between languages and proposals about the structure of the human capacity for language. Like saying that because frogs look different from goats, they're not both built of proteins. #3 recursion: we don't know starlings have recursion. That's a basic mathematical mistake, since the reported behaviour is compatible with non recursive grammars using a counting stack. #4 the claim about recursion is a claim about the human language capacity, not about languages. If Piraha lacks clausal embedding, that's irrelevant to the claim. #5 the stuff on acquisition is hugely controversial and the argument Evans makes shows a misunderstanding of probability theory. Actual tokens are too rare to generalise from by Zipfs law, but kids do generalise. http://www.ling.upenn.edu/~ycharles/papers/zipfnew.pdf #5 Evans seems to think that it's a prediction that a structural fact about humans (eg a system that allows language) must be localised. But the nervous system is a structural fact about human beings. Hardly localised. #6 Evans discusses evidence for double dissociation from the 1990s and says it doesn't hold up. He should have read more up to date literature such as curtiss's work http://linguistics.ucla.edu/people/curtiss/index.htm #7 On DNA: Current theory takes the language capacity to be an interaction between genome, experience and physical/computational law. I don't see how any claim can be made about how much information can be stored in DNA. #8 ditto the arguments on evolution. Evans should read Tattersall or anyone else who knows about human evolution http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/B0065SSA94?ie=UTF8&redirectFromSS=1&pc_redir=1410457620&noEncodingTag=1&robot_redir=1. #9 Evans in the article or book gives not one example of how 'cooperation' explains facts about human syntax that are well known (http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/002243) and well explained. None have ever been given. Unclear why we should swap an empirically successful theory of human grammatical capacity for one with absolutely no explanation for the vast array of facts we know about the syntax of individual languages, or relations between them.