Languages, "modern" and otherwise

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Wed, 21 Aug 1996 08:48:28 -0400

In message <19960820230023.AAA29670@LOCALNAME> Robert Snower writes:

> Thank you for your informative reply. I don't want to quibble, because I
> have no doubt that language acquisition involves our pasts as well as what
> is presented to us by our senses. But if you care to comment on the
> following . . .
> 1. In French, the child might well produce
> "Is it that the cat t black on the couch?"

Do you mean while speaking French, or while speaking English?

> 2. In "synthetic" languages such as classical Latin, and ancient Greek, the
> order is not essential to the meaning at all. Doesn't that bear on the
> argument for the innateness of the above?

No. Classial Greek and Latin are fully modern languages. Do not be misled by
the inappropriate use of the term "modern" to refer to languages still acquired
as native languages today. There is nothing about the structure of Latin or
Greek that separates them from any language spoken now.

> 3. The change from such languages to modern analytic language in a matter
> of less than 2000 years seems very great to me. Does anyone think this
> great change is based on a genetic change? If it is all "cultural," does
> that mean a modern child could as readily acquire one of these languages?
> Or that an ancient Greek, transported through time, could acquire English as
> readily as today's child? (If you decide to perform these experiments, let
> me know.)

Languages lke Latin and Greek, which depend more heavily on morphology than
syntax, are still plentiful today. I am not aware of anyone who would argue
that the evolution (I use the word loosely here!) of various forms of Latin into
contemporary Spanish, Italian, Romanian, etc. has anything to do with genetics.
Children transported by time-warp from ancient Greece or Rome, or for that
matter from the homeland of the Indo-Europeans 6,000 or more years ago, and
almost surely from even further back than that, would be fully "modern" humans
and be capable of acquiring any natural human language.

Ron Kephart
University of North Florida