Words Cannot Express
Bickerton (Derek)
Source: New York Times Magazine, September 3, 2010
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Is language first and foremost an artifact of culture? Or is it largely determined by human biology? This issue has been argued back and forth for a couple of centuries with no clear resolution in sight. Guy Deutscher’s 2005 book "Deutscher (Guy) - The Unfolding Of Language: The Evolution of Mankind's Greatest Invention" placed him firmly in the pro-culture camp. Now, in his new book, "Deutscher (Guy) - Through the Language Glass: Why The World Looks Different In Other Languages", he examines some idiosyncratic aspects of particular languages that, in his opinion, cast further doubt on biologically based theories of language.
  2. [Conclusion] Explaining why he rejects biologically based explanations of language, Deutscher states that “if the rules of grammar are meant to be coded in the genes, then one could expect the grammar of all languages to be the same, and it is then difficult to explain why grammars should ever vary in any fundamental aspects.” Actually, it’s quite easy. Simply suppose that biology provides not a complete grammar, but rather the building blocks out of which such a grammar can be made. That is, in fact, all biology could be expected to do. With physical organs, biology can mandate — two legs instead of four, five fingers instead of six. But when it comes to behavior, biology cannot mandate. It can only facilitate, offering a range of possibilities from which culture (or more likely, sheer chance) can choose.
  3. Fortunately, relatively little of “Through the Language Glass” is devoted to these issues. Readers can ignore Deutscher’s broader claims, and enjoy the little-¬trodden linguistic bypaths along which he so knowledgeably leads them.

Comment:

Link. Required reading for "van Oostendorp (Marc) - Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics".

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  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



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