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  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

« From Protolanguage to True Language | Main | A Cultural Law of Gravity »


Yair Shimron

You write "but linguistics teaches there are no old things for language to build on". It is the "revolution" of Chomskian linguistics that teaches this, while historical linguistics teaches quite the same principles as biology.


On this issue Bickerton has concluded “there must have been” a P-L, then made a career out of searching for real-world examples to support his conclusion. Every example he's proposed over the years—apes, children, deaf, pidgins (a structureless pidgin is an oxymoron)—has been shown to possess the structure he claims it lacks. It's difficult to take seriously his latest attempt to avoid saying “there must not have been”.


Lots of animals groom each other and many species "vocalize" to their young. If Dunbar or Falk were correct and Bickerton was wrong then birds and squirrels (indeed most animals) would have language just like us. The world would that of Doctor Dolittle.

We're looking for a unique situation that occurred in our species but not in others. A situation that allowed man to take that first step away from the here-and-now inside which other animals are trapped for their entire lives.

Note re uzza's comments:

Bickerton doesn't say that children and the deaf have language without syntax. He claims that children have syntactical ability built-in, that deaf children can learn syntax if they are exposed to signing sufficiently early, that pidgin languages are languages composed primarily by adults who must cooperate but whom do not share a language and that children, when taught a pidgin language will re-engineer that pidgin language to create a fully syntactical creole language.

Further, he states that any given pidgin language is actually a continuum of languages primarily based on historical time: the oldest version being spoken by the originators and later versions by those who learned the language later. Later versions of the pidgin are more complex, have larger vocabularies, more features and eventually over time (as children learn the pidgin) produce a creole language.

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