Master Course: Topics in Philosophy, Language and Cognition - Maite Ezcurdia 1-13 Feb 2010
Maite Ezcurdia (UNAM)
Topics in Philosophy, Language and Cognition:
Nativism about language
When: 1-13 February 2010
Where: Room 401, 4 floor, Fac. Filosofia, UB Raval
Description of the course:
The main objective of this course is to familiarize students with a central debate in cognitive science. Although the course will require reading materials in linguistics, cognitive psychology, and philosophy, the course will be essentially philosophical in nature, assessing the strength of arguments and evidence.
One of the central topics on the nature-nurture debate concerns the extent to which certain psychological abilities are innate. The arguments that have been put forward in favour of the existence of innate psychological abilities are, predominantly, analogous to those offered in favour of the innateness of our language faculty; hence, the importance of looking at these arguments. This course focuses on the linguistic faculty and the arguments from nativists and non-nativists about the human linguistic ability.
I.Nativism vs. non-nativism: the beginning
Chomsky argued against Skinner that the acquisition of language was not a question of learning and teaching by some form of reinforcement, and that could not be explained only in terms of general learning capacities. In this initial section we shall critically examine Chomsky’s arguments against Skinner. It will set the stage for chomskyan arguments against the most lively alternatives to nativism, namely, associationism or empiricism.
Reading: Chomsky 1959, Chomsky 1986.
II.Empiricist explanations: Quine and Putnam
Quine claimed that language acquisition occurred via our general learning abilities that allow us to identify patterns of resemblance (associationism). Putnam, on the other hand, proposed more sophisticated empiricist acquisition models. We shall consider both proposals and the reaction of the chomskyan camp.
Reading: Quine 1970, Putnam 1967, Cowie 1999 (chapters 7 and 8).
III.Poverty of stimulus arguments: their structure and negative evidence
The logical structure and evidence used in poverty of stimulus arguments have been questioned by both by linguists and philosophers. Cowie claims that there are essentially two kinds of poverty of stimulus arguments: an a posteriori kind and another concerning the availability of negative evidence. We shall critically review Cowie’s claims.
Reading: Cowie 1999 (chapters 8 and 9), Crain and Pietroski 2001,
Laurence and Margolis 2001.
IV.Weak nativism and a sophisticated associationism
Cowie defends a weak form of innateness for the linguistic faculty and Kyra Karmiloff with Annette Karmiloff-Smith, more recently, have defended a more sophisticated form of associationism. We shall consider to what extent it is plausible to suppose that in the developmental process of a child domain-specific capacities are created.
Reading: Cowie 1999 (chapters 9 and 10), and Karmiloff and
Karmiloff-Smith 2001 (chapters 3 and 5).
V.Other nativist arguments and the innateness concept
Other important sources of evidence in favour of nativism are the emergence of creole languages in just one generation, the species-specificity of language, the existence of a critical period of lanaguage acquisition, the easeness of language acquisition, linguistic complexity and linguistic universals. We shall review some of this evidence (if not all). We shall also consider genetic evidence recently put forward in favour of the innateness of language and other purportedly language specific syndromes, and we shall consider what all of this may show.
In the philosophy of biology, attempts have been made to give scientific credibility to the concept of innateness. Some suggestions have taken innateness to be interpreted in terms of more scientifically amenable concepts such as triggering (Lorenz), canalization, heritability, etc. We shall consider what sort of concept would be most appropriate for the language faculty in light of the most successful nativist arguments.
Reading: Karmiloff and Karmiloff- Smith 2001 (chapter 7), and
Ariew, A. (1996) “Innateness and Canalization”, Philosophy of Science, 63 (Proceedings), pp. 19-27.
Baker, M. (1996) The Polysynthesis Parameter, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Baker, M. (2001) The Atoms of Language, Basic Books, New York.
Carruthers, P., S. Laurence and S. Stich (comps.) (2005) The Innate Mind, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Crain, S. y P. Pietroski (2001) “Nature, Nurture and Universal Grammar”, Linguistics and Philosophy 24, pp. 139-86.
Chomsky, N. (1959) “Review of B.F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior”, Language 35. Reimpreso en N. Block (comp.) (1980) Readings in the Philosophy of Psychology, Vol. 1, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.).
Chomsky, N. (1975) Reflections on Language, Fontana/Collins, Glasgow.
Chomsky, N. (1986) Knowledge of Language, Praeger, Nueva York. Chapters 1 and 2.
Cowie, F. (1999) What’s Within? Nativism Reconsidered, Blackwell, Oxford. Chapters 7, 8, 9 and 10.
Fodor, J. (1998) In Critical Condition, MIT Press, Cambridge (Mass.).
Fodor, J. (2001) “Doing without What's Within: Fiona Cowie's critique of nativism”, Mind, Vol. CX, pp. 99-148.
Griffiths, P. (2002) “What Is Innateness?”, The Monist, vol. LXXXV.
Hornstein, N. and Lightfoot, D. (eds) (1981) Explanation in Linguistics: The Logical Problem of Language Acquisition, Longman, London.
Jackendoff, R. (2002) Foundations of Language: Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Karmiloff, K. and A. Karmiloff-Smith (2001) Pathways to Language, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.). Chapters 3, 5 and 7.
Laurence, S. y E. Margolis (2001) “The Poverty of the Stimulus Argument”, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, vol. LII, no. 2, pp. 217-276.
Newmeyer, O. (ed.) (1988) Linguistics: the Cambridge Survey, vol. 3, Language: Psychological and Biological Aspects, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Piattelli-Palmarini, M. (1989) “Evolution, Selection and Cognition: From ‘Learning’ to Parameter Setting in Biology and in the Study of Language”, Cognition, Vol. XXXI, pp. 1–44.
Pinker, S. (1994) The Language Instinct, Penguin, London.
Pinker, S. (1997) How The Mind Works, Penguin, London.
Putnam, H. (1967) “The 'Innateness Hypothesis' and Explanatory Models in Linguistics”, Synthese, Vol. XVII, pp. 12-22.
Quine, W. V. O. (1969) “Reply to Chomsky” en Words and Objections: Essays on the Work of W. V. Quine, D. Davidson y J. Hintikka (comps.), Dordrecht, pp. 302-311.
Quine, W. V. O. (1970) “Methodological Reflections on Current Linguistic Theory”, Synthèse, Vol. XXI, 386-398.
Tomasello, M. (2003) Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.).