Re: Instincts and Bioprograms

Jesse S. Cook III (jcook@AWOD.COM)
Mon, 19 Aug 1996 14:04:46 -0400

On 18 August 1996, Ronald Kephart commented:

>In message <> "Jesse S. Cook III" writes:
>> 1. What does the word "bioprogram" do for us that the word "instincts" does
>> not? Or, as I said in my post of 28 July 1996, is it merely "a euphemism
>> for what some think of as a 'dirty' word"?
>> 2. Does "bioprogram" increase our grasp of the concept? Or does it merely
>> confuse the concept with the concept of a computer program?
>> 3. In what way is "bioprogram" useful? And to whom would it be useful?
>> In my opinion, it would be useful only to those who attempt to impress
>> others without enlightening them. And the anology, if it is what I think it
>> is, is a bad one.
>Bickerton (Language & Species) uses the term "language bioprogram" to refer to
>the innate, genetically given aspects of language which require a trigger
>(a social and linguistic context) for full realization. Chomsky's more-or-less
>comparable term is "universal grammar". This seems different from an
>(pace Stephen Pinker) which requires no such trigger effect. If language were
>an "instinct" children raised in the absence of social/linguistic context would
>just go ahead and speak anyway; but they don't.
>It seems to me that the distinction is useful if you want to explain things
>language, and perhaps also culture more generally, which have elements which
>appear to be innate and yet which require a social context for acquisition.

First, I think, maybe, the word "trigger" is inappropriate for that which it
is being used. It seems to me that "a social and liguistic context" is not
a "trigger". That is to say, a context is not a trigger. A context is a
context. A trigger is something that sets off something else. A context is
something within which something else happens.

Language is acquired within "a social and linguistic context" through some
unknown means *during a certain period of time*. It is part of a normal
development process; and, if there is a "trigger", it is time, not the
context wihtin which it takes place.

Second, what makes you (or Bickerton, for that matter) think that insticts
"require no such triggers"? It seems to me that the word "trigger" is more
appropriately applied with reference to instincts than it is with reference
to language acquisition.

Third, I agree that it is inappropriate to call language an instinct.

Fourth, what "elements" of culture "appear to be innate and yet...require a
social context for acquisition" besides language?

Jesse S. Cook III E-Mail:
Post Office Box 40984 or
Charleston, SC 29485 USA

"Our attitude toward others is not determined by who *they* are;
it is determined by who *we* are."