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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 am a bit troubled by your avoidance of the idea of 'communication'. I have it that animals communicate. Humans are especially good at communication because of having language as well as other forms of communication. The reason that communication through language is so effective is because it uses the mechanism of directing attention. Why should communication and directed attention be thought of as mutually exclusive? Am I missing something you are saying about directed attention?
BLOGGER: I'm not trying to avoid it. The idea that language communicates, in the sense of convey information, is very old and I have no trouble with it. In the 1940s, however, information theory formalized a definition of what it called "communication" as a system of control. Things have been a mess ever since, because we confuse the two meanings. The formal definition works extremely well for machines, animals, plants, and genes. It does not work for language. On this blog, for example, I spend a lot of time talking about the speech triangle. That has no place in the formal theory of communications. It's not that we are doing something better than the birds; we are doing something altogether different.

J. Goard

From the beginning Chomsky has argued that you cannot learn syntax by learning patterns. That was the point that got Skinner into so much trouble.

Like hell you can't.

What more do connectionist models, child language studies, crosslinguistic grammaticalization studies, and usage-based descriptive linguistics (far surpassing UG models in terms of constructional semantics, frequency, variation, and historical change) have to do to put this sicklily quacking canard out of its misery?

Sure, it seems plausible that one couldn't learn syntax from formal input strings alone, but that's not a good argument, nor even a decent one. It is, rather, Chomsky's strawman. We have absolutely no reason to doubt that children, with strong instincts for social interaction and imitation, with systems of frequency-based learning and analogy, in a (per Baldwinian evolution) richly structured learning environment, using utterances that have rich semantics, can acquire natural languages as structured inventories of patterns abstracted for exemplars.

If a biologist wants to take the position that linguists should pay more attention to other fields, then he probably ought to start by identifying those current schools of thought in linguistics which are not crazily out of line with basic facts about neurology, evolution, and child psycho-social development.

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