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"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men."

Col 3:23

Innateness of languages

There are other factors to consider when reflecting on the natural quality of language. “Language,” Steven Pinker contends in his book The Language Instinct, “is no more a cultural invention than is upright posture” (5). For example, there is to consider the universality of complex language, a strong reason to infer that language is the product of a special human instinct.

Pinker points out that “there are Stone Age societies, but there is no such thing as a Stone Age language. Earlier in this century the anthropological linguist Edward Sapir wrote, ‘When it comes to linguistic form, Plato walks with the Macedonian swineherd, Confucius with the head-­‐ hunting savage of Assam’”(Pinker, 14). And there is still a uniquely human quality to this form of contact: notwithstanding

decades of effort, no artificially engineered language system comes close to accomplishing that which comes naturally to the average human in terms of understanding and utilizing speech. This even includes such complicated programs such as HAL and C3PO (Pinker, 15). The instinctive language facility can further be observed in children. There are children who are exposed to a pidgin language, and also deaf children, whose parents’ flawed signing is the only example of how to communicate, at the age when subjects acquire their mother tongue. Instead of settling for a fragmentary language as their parents did, children actually “fill in the gaps” or “inject” grammatical complexity where none existed previously, thereby transforming an enriched language into what is known as a creole (Pinker, 21).

Noam Chomsky’s experiments support this idea; he derived the notion from his studies that, “the only way for children to learn something as complex as language… is to have known a lot about how language works beforehand, so that a child knows what to expect when immersed in the sea of speech… the ability to learn a language is innate, hidden in our genes” (Yang, 8). Another example of the inherent language capability can be demonstrated in the following set of sentences: A. Sarah appeared to Angela to like herself.

B. Sarah appeared to Angela to like her. C. Sarah appealed to Angela to like herself. D. Sarah appealed to Angela to like her. How does one know how to distinguish between ordinary pronouns like “her” and reflexive pronouns such as “herself,” while also being able to tell the difference between verbs like “appear” and “appeal?” Ray Jackendoff, author of Patterns in the Mind, concludes that “grammatical patterns [are] deeply ingrained… much that we know about [language] has not been taught” (23).

Jackendoff concludes his argument for innateness in recalling Chomsky’s argument: humans do not learn to have arms rather than wings. Why, then, is it surmised that the human brain acquires fundamental structure through learning rather than genetic inheritance? “The ability to learn language is rooted in our biology,” he states, “a genetic characteristic of the human species, just like an opposable thumb and a pelvis adapted for upright stance… the supporting brain structures are present” (30). Provided with these hereditary precedents, it hardly seems surprising that there could be a structural specialization in the brain for language and language acquisition.

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