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Re: Use of Conlang to test Language Universals

From:And Rosta <and.rosta@...>
Date:Wednesday, February 4, 2009, 21:54
IIRC, when the authors were doing this research I raised the objection that Epun was
a language that nobody could think could be a human-speakable (let alone
natural) language, whereas their research programme really needed a language
that Principles & Parameters theory predicted was impossible but that others
would predict to at least be human-speakable. But the authors' focus was on
providing putative evidence in support of P&P theory rather than investigating
Christopher's gift (and then perhaps using that gift to test the limits of
human-speakability). I felt that the research opportunity that Christopher
provided was squandered because of the researchers' theoretical agenda.


John H. Chalmers, On 04/02/2009 20:41:
> Lingua 91 (1993) 279-347. North-Holland 279 > Learning the impossible : > The acquisition of possible and > impossible languages by a polyglot savant > Neil V. Smith,” Ianthi-Maria Tsimpli,b and Jamal Ouhalla” > ’ Department of Phonetics and Linguistics. University College London, > Gower Street, London > WClE 6BT, UK > b Department of English Language, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, > Newcastle-upon-Tyne > NEI 7RU, UK > ’ Department of Hispanic Studies, Queen Mary & Westfield College, Mile > End Road, London El > 4NS. UK > Received March 1993 > > We report on the case of a polyglot savant (Christopher) who has a > remarkable talent for > learning and translating languages. Building on previous work which had > established both the > range of languages at Christopher’s command and the extent to which his > linguistic knowledge > was integrated into his cognitive ability, we taught him two new > languages for which we > controlled the input. We had two main aims: the first was to test the > hypothesis (within one > version of the Principles and Parameters framework) that parameter > resetting is not an option > available to the second language learner; the second was to accrue > further evidence for or against > Fodor’s modularity hypothesis and cast light on the possible range of > interactions between > linguistic and ‘central’ cognitive processes. The languages chosen were > Berber, an Afro-Asiatic > language spoken in North Africa, and Epun, an invented language > deliberately devised to contain > constructions which violated universal grammatical principles. In > Christopher’s acquisition of > Berber we gleaned evidence from a variety of phenomena, including word > order, null subjects, > f/rat-trace effects, wh-island violations and cliticisation, that his > learning was conditioned by a > combination of transfer effects from English and principles of UG, > rather than by the effect of > parameter resetting. In Christopher’s acquisition of Epun we began with > a core of ‘normal’ > constructions, designed to make him feel at home in the new language, > and then proceeded to > investigate a range of impossible constructions, both > structure-dependent and structure-independent. > In the former case, we concentrated on negative sentences, constructed > with no overt > negative morpheme, and past-tense sentences which involve unattested and > putatively impossible > word-order differences, In the latter case, we concentrated on a rule of > emphasis that involved > counting words, and a form of agreement which again violated putatively > universal generahsations. > In each case we compared Christopher’s performance with that of a small > group of > controls. The results were complex, but we think we can justify an > interpretation which lends > support to both the main hypotheses being tested. > 0024-3841/ >


Ronald Craig <rjcraig@...>