Wednesday, September 9, 2015


Someone sent me this, which surprised me:

"I am well aware that  both Chomsky and Fodor reject Darwinian evolution. (Since that theory is highly successful, and constitutes the beating heart of population genetics, to mention just one part of biology, I would think that is already reason to dismiss their talk of innate language.) Chomsky apparently thinks that the “language organ” appeared in the brain serendipitously, but that the makes the story even crazier. The story that the hundreds of thousands of terms in human languages, and the millions of terms in possible human languages, all correspond to terms in a master vocabulary of ‘Mentalese’, or to a a set of "switch"-settings, supplied to us by serendipity is precisely analogous to supposing that monkeys typed out Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. (Of course, to reject that story is not to deny that some aspects of language might be innate; that would not be incompatible with evolution.)

In my entire life, I have never once even hinted at rejection of the modern theory of evolution, Darwinian in origin though of course greatly extended and crucially modified since.  You’re quite right in dismissing talk of “innate language,” just as I have always done.  I have never once even hinted at your story about the terms of human language, though I have discussed the fact that the modern adherence to the referentialist doctrine, abandoning a long philosophical tradition, has led to great confusions in modern philosophy and is quite inconsistent with basic facts about human language.  As for the origin of the terms of human language, as I’ve repeatedly discussed, that remains a deep mystery, for which no one has any sensible account.

Sorry that our efforts to get together have so far failed.  Hope we’ll have a chance to talk about these (and many other) things one of these days. 
(comment to come - HP)


  1. I have some pages i xeroxed from a book by chomsky (possibly on south end press or another one) on his views on 'language and mind'. He more or less says in those pages exactly what he denies he said (except he never said he didnt believe in the theory of evolution, only that people should not study the evolution of language using the theory of evolution, since it wouldnt make any sense---until of course he dicided to study the evolution of language with marc hauser; a fairly shallow, almost nonsensical paper with marc hauser in which they tried to define recursion after using the term for 30 years) and couldnt really do it.

    He calls his stuff 'cartesian linguistics'. He's a Platonist (like godel). He may not think language or words lives in some 'mentalese' ether, but he thinks it out in the universe instead.

    Thinking, writing or talking is basically like shopping in a store---people go to a store and buy items, and then put them together with a recipe (which they also bought at the store). Similarily, people derive their, say, ideology by shopping in the universe, and picking out a combinantion of morphemes, pheonemes, a recipe (grammar), words, concepts etc and then combine them at home to come up with an opinion, a book, or grant proposal

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