Re: Instincts and Bioprograms

Jeannine Jarvis (jeannine@CAS.NWU.EDU)
Tue, 20 Aug 1996 12:55:09 -0500

Ron Kephart wrote:
>A major piece of evidence for innateness is things which seem to be "known"
>prior to experience. For example, children at about six months can
perceive and
>categorize features such as vowel height and voicing of stop consonants (refs
>forthcoming if you want). This is before they can talk of course; indeed, at
>six months they can't produce the acoustic equivalent of adult vowels.

>Chomsky's classic example involves sentences like "The cat that is black is on
>the couch". English speaking children correctly form the yes-no question

> "Is the cat that is black t on the couch?"

>by moving the "is" which is in the predicate (The "t" marks the place which the
>main verb was moved from). They never produce something like

> *"Is the cat that t black is on the couch?"

>which involves incorrectly moving a verb out of a clause embedded in the
>subject. They do not require instruction in this, or even prior experience of
>such question-formation. The conclusion is that phrase structure is
built-in, a
>part of universal grammar.

I wonder:
Isn't there more osmosis going on here than innate ability? By the time a
child is able to "produce the equivalent of adult vowels", isn't that child
absorbing the syntax of the language he/she hears? Or am I completely
missing something?

Jeannine Jarvis
Northwestern Univ.