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Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

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I do not think we can associate the origin of lateralization with the origin of syntactic structure. It appears that lateralization is fairly wide-spread in animals and therefore likely to pre-date the first Homo species. I do not think that we have a good handle on the what, how and why of lateralization yet. However, I would put my money on syntactic structure developing by taking advantage of some already existing facility in the left hemisphere having little or nothing to do with language.
Also, I can see how syntactic structure can be independent of the meaning of words, but I have difficulty imagining a sentence without any words at all in it.


“all subjects [investigated] show left-hemisphere activation for syntactic processes”. This observation that is emphasized by generativists is right. But the left hemisphere is also the responsible for manual pantomimes. (Funnell, Ferry, Gerry & Gazzaniga, 2005, who have researched this question in split brain patients -i.e. patients who lack the corpus callosum connecting the hemispheres of the brain-, put forward an even more significant piece of information: the left brain predominates for manual pantomime even in left-handed people. In addition, it has been proven that “this effect is not attributable to differences at the conceptual level, as the left and right hemispheres are equally and highly competent at associating tools with observed pantomimes”). Manual pantomimes adapt to a learned model.
Movements in the whole body can occur in two different ways: either by adapting to the environment, or by adapting to the model. These two ways may have to do with specific human hemispheric specialisation. Let us remember that both technical actions and articulatory-phonetic patterns adapt to the model, and that intonation (right hemisphere: Peretz & Hyde, 2003) is not copied. In my view, cultural learning may be the key of lateralisation of language.


The generativist bias in giving preeminence to syntax is wrong-headed from the start. Syntax is grammaticalized semantics, just like semantics is grammaticalized pragmatics. Find the logic of perception, agency attribution, and action, and you will find the deep-buried roots of syntax. But do not look for an implanted "syntactic module" in the brain because you won't find any.


The ethnocentric myth of phoneme—morphme—word—sentence impedes progress, marginalizing languages such as Coast Salish which lacks free morphemes altogether. Sentences in agglutinating languages are indistinguishable from words, or even syllables in the case of signed languages. Since an adequate cross-linguistic definition of 'word' does not exist, for the question to make sense it needs framed in terms of morphemes rather than words.

Chomskyans critically, and wrongly, assume that syntactic categories exist without reference to morphemes. To determine the meaning of a 'holophrastic' expression, they must take into account non-vocal production, as a disturbance in air molecules cannot by itself focus attention on a detail. Once you factor in pointing gestures such as mutual eyegaze, you are no longer dealing with one morpheme, but a 'sentence'.
Children's so-called one-word utterances like [“awgon” (while pointing at an empty bowl)] consist of two clear morphemes expressing two semantic roles, Act and Agent respectively, and two 'syntactic' categories: referential pointing, which indicate agents; and vocables, which indicate Acts. This quasi-syntactic categorization is present and typically organizes into consistent, syntactic, word order even in pantomime.
This organization appears before 'words' in: the manual productions of pre-verbal children; in Home Sign; with Adults who never develop language; in the earliest stage of language creation, as in Al-Sayyid, a third-generation language still deficient in stable form-meaning pairs. Uniformitarianism predicts it also appeared first in proto-humans.

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