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Cognitive Linguistics, "The Language Instinct", and High-Functioning Autistics

From:Eldin Raigmore <eldin_raigmore@...>
Date:Wednesday, May 10, 2006, 23:43
I have a vaguish question about a possible compromise between the position
John Quijada put forth in his handouts to the 1st LCC, and the "language
instinct" idea.  It's not _very_ compromising -- its closer to the
cognitive view than the innatist view.  It's based in part on the data
concerning the difficulties autistic persons have learning language.

It seems to me that very many species, even some invertebrates, have
hardware/software to make it quicker to decode stimuli that are made by
their conspecifics.

The "higher" species also have additional hardware/software to make it
quicker to decode stimuli that were _deliberately_ produced by their
conspecifics _for_the_purpose_of_ being sensed by their conspecifics.

Among the former category are included "recognition" faculties; such as
some ant species's ability to tell whether a fecal pellet from a
conspecific ant came from a member of their own nest or of some other nest;
such as birds and whales being able to recognize individuals by their
calls; such as sheep being able to recognize individual sheep, and zebras
being able to recognize individual zebras, by the appearance of their faces.

Among the latter category could be the ability of octopada to recognize the
emotional state of other octopada by their color; probably are the
abilities of various animals to recognize whether their conspecifics are
ready to mate or not; surely are certain birds and monkeys and apes and
cheetahs abilities to recognize whether the call of a conspecific is a
warning, and if so the general kind of danger being warned about, or a
notification of an available food source, or a plaint of hunger from a
young one, or a call to mate, or a claim of territory.

It is just such hardware/software -- the human version of it -- which is
disabled in high-functioning autistics.  Some such people have a long delay
in learning their native language, and considerable difficulty learning it,
although many become quite proficient in it eventually.

I therefore suggest that there is, indeed, an "instinctual" ability that is
used in infant acquisition of an L1.  But for the most part, it is not an
exclusively human instinctual ability that is used.  Rather, to the degree
that there is any exclusively human "instinct to learn an art" involved, it
is just an incremental enhancement of the fairly common ability to
correctly decode a stimulus -- or perhaps I should say a prejudice toward
the correct interpretation of stimuli -- given only the extra knowledge
that that stimulus was produced by a conspecific.


Well, that was my main point.  What does anyone think?  In particular what
do John Quijada and Sai Emrys and And Rosta think?  Or any other cognitive-
types on list?


The natural next step would be for me to hypothesize what, exactly, the
nature of that "incremental enhancement" is.

I think there may be two parts to this.


There is a difference between "monkey see monkey do" and "baby see baby
do".  A monkey imitates what one actually _does_; a baby imitates what one
_intended_ to do.

I think this ability to discern intent -- however partially -- is key to an
infant's ability to acquire an L1, and indeed to learn anything by
imitation; and is a notable enhancement over the corresponding ability to
learn by imitation possessed by (most?) monkeys.


It is a fact that every (or nearly every) attested human natlang is
learnable by an infant within about two years.

I believe a "Principle of Groundless Optimism" may be involved in infant
acquisition of an L1.  Namely, given two possible interpretations of
linguistic input, an infant "assumes" that the interpretation which would
make the language more learnable is the correct one.

(This is analogous to the strategic principle in Contract Bridge that, if
the unseen cards _must_ lie in particular hands, or else you won't be able
to make your contract, then you should play _as_if_ they do, in fact, lie
in those hands.)


Okay, again, what does anybody think?




David J. Peterson <dedalvs@...>
And Rosta <and.rosta@...>
And Rosta <and.rosta@...>