Re: Julian Jaynes

Michael Andrew Turton (
23 Jan 1995 16:03:10 GMT

In article <3fn8iu$>, <> wrote:
>Cary Grant wrote:
>> it is now widely believed, in fact scientifically proven (after the work
>> of Chomsky and others) that our language capacity is hard wired in to our
>> brains. We have, in fact, a language organ in our brains which switches
>> on early and absorbs language in a profound way. In other words it is
>> something which evolved biologically under natural selection, and
>> therefore has been around for a very long time. Thus, by Jaynes's own
>> admission, his theory cannot be correct.

>In any case, I've heard of Chomsky's linguistic work but know absolutely
>nothing about it. Could you provide me further information on Chomsky's
>(or others') scientific proof(s) that language capacity is hard-wired
>into our brains?

Chomsky is really three thinkers. One is the linguistic researcher
who did his work young and then for many years did little to develop it.
The second is the philosopher, and the third is perhaps America's leading

Chomsky's work proved nothing -- that was its biggest problem.
Chomsky maintained that grammar was innate in the form of deep structures
more or less hard-wired and then, by means of transformations, became
surface structures -- the grammar of languages we know around the world.
Unfortunately there was no way to demonstrate the existence of deep
structures and the linguistic community largely abandoned Chomsky after
an initial burst of enthusiasm. For years his work was largely carried on
by disciples. Being an *insight* rather than a discovery, the deep structures
had far more in common with the universals in Plato's cave than with anything
in the real world.

Chomsky was important not because he was right about the details,
but because he stimulated research into what is more or less hard-wired
and what is not. While grammar and words are clearly not, acquisition
processes and behaviors probably are. Check out research into "baby talk"
and infant-mother communication in different cultures. There are remarkable

For some perspectives on Chomsky, check out Syntactic Structures,
one of his original works, as well as Edelman's Bright Air, Brilliant
Fire and Pinkers _The Language Instinct_. But Chomsky most definitely
proved nothing, except perhaps the seductive beauty of insight.

Mike Turton