Synthesis, again

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Tue, 30 Apr 1996 12:53:39 -0400

Mike Shupp wrote...

"A hypothesis: as infants, humans develop notions of causality, number and
magnitude, order, and other phenomena that other species do not. That
deeper understanding of how the universe works and can be manipulated is as much
to be credited with our existence as culture or language."

I would say that without language, and culture, the deeper understanding that
Mike talks about would not exist (at least not for us). In other words, I don't
think we became intelligent and then invented language to make our intelligence
transmittable; I think we acquired (proto-) language, and then became
intelligent as a result of what this innovation allowed us to think/do.

And Dwight Read wrote...

"Trivially (though it is not necessarily trivial) culture is a product of
biology in the sense that we are able to "have culture" only because, via
biological evolution, we have a brain that is capable of engaging in what we
call culture."

Here again, I would go further. I don't think culture (or language) are
separable from the biology that makes them possible. In addition to making them
possible, the biology also shapes them into forms which are acquirable and
useable. If linguists are correct that an innate Universal Grammar forms the
basis of all languages so that (to paraphrase Chomsky) all humans speak dialects
of the same language, then probably there is also an innate universal grammar of
culture. The UG of language ensures that any language is acquirable by any
member of H. sapiens (actually, this is just a more up-to date version of
Hockett's design feature of "learnability"). So, the ug of culture would ensure
that any culture would be acquirable by any human. Unacquirable cultures, like
unacquirable languages, simply would not exist naturally.

This is so much fun I wish I could keep going, but I have to finish making up a
final exam in linguistics.

Ronald Kephart
Dept of Language & Literature
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, FL USA 32224-2645
Phone: (904) 646-2580