Language is our main means of communication and learning, without it we would not understand each other efficiently enough to communicate our needs and thoughts. It is a very complicated feature of human cognition. Yet children acquire language very naturally and quickly without any formal instruction. Many language experts such as Chomsky (1965) and Pinker (2000) believe this suggests that there is some innate predisposal to acquire language, by this it is meant a genetic mechanism that holds what he calls the ‘universal grammar’ common to all languages.
Noam Chomsky call’s language ‘the human essence’ (1972). He is a discontinuity theorist, this means he believes the human brain appears to have an ‘inborn’ capacity to learn and obtain languages. Chomsky puts forward that many of the attributes adult speakers acquire cannot be answered for by learning mechanisms but ‘‘an innate component of the human mind that yields a particular language through interaction with presented experience’’ (Chomsky, 1985,p. ) The extent of detail in the structure of human language does suggest that maybe an ability to learn language is genetically embedded, as opposed to language being learnt as one develops. However, Chomsky does not take into consideration evolution as a possible threat to his claim of humans being innately predisposed to acquire language. Noam Chomsky believes that all human beings have a Language Acquisition Device (LAD), an instinctive mental capacity which holds the general grammatical rules that every language has, and this is what allows children to learn language so naturally.
Chomsky assumes everyone has a LAD which therefore means all languages need to basically be the same and have the same fundamental principles, so in order to learn a specific language a child just needs to learn the vocabulary and principles relevant to that language. Meanwhile, some people such as Michael Tomasello, (a developmental psychologist), critique Chomsky’s idea of innate predisposition to acquiring language.
Tomasello claims we don’t need an inherent language instinct to explain why children learn language but that language ability is associated with other psychological abilities we inherit and are mainly a result of children picking up words and the recurring series of symbols from their intercourse with others. “The most fundamental aspects of human communication are seen as biological adaptations for cooperation and social interaction in general, whereas the more purely linguistic including grammatical dimensions of language are culturally onstructed and passed along by individual linguistic communities”(Tomasello, 2008 p. 11). According to Charles Darwin (1874), language is a system of entwined coercions that have evolved within humans over time due to modification and co-adaptation. In accordance to this view language has become embedded within us over this time due to the knowledge we have internalised from experience of the outside world through our senses.
Presently there are thousands of different languages, this shows that different cultures have encouraged language development and it has expanded and evolved and been passed through generation to generation through cultural learning (Tomasello, 2008 p. 10). Humans have not always been able to communicate through linguistics; we have evolved by adaptation to acquire language. Darwinian accounts of language evolution proposed the theory of natural selection, a systematic process where the being’s biologic traits evolve to be either more or less common in a population.
Therefore, causing the individuals with the less common traits to die out and the one’s with the more common traits to survive and gradually over time the species will adapt with their particular ecological niche to form a new species. In relation to language, Darwinian evolutionary perspective see’s the use of language having evolved as people gathered to form larger social groups therefore causing the environment to become harder to survive in, as smooth working social systems would have needed to emerge in order to allow thoughts to be communicated.
Humans who began to learn language would find it easier to survive and then pass on their language to their children and so on. Therefore Darwin’s theory does not support Chomsky’s claim of humans having an innate predisposal to acquire languages as he believed it was something that has evolved and then been developed over time, not something that has always been present in our genetics. Most animals communicate with one another non-verbally, for example some bee species have very specific and evolved ways of communicating with each other about the location and quality of food (Winston, 1987, p. 5) or the emperor penguin which uses an intricate set of calls that are very vital for individual recognition between parents, offspring, and mates, demonstrating a very wide range of individual calls from all the penguins (Williams 1995, p. 68). As all these forms of communication appear to be very natural to the species they are relevant to, it suggests they are easily developed and learnt through the social context the being is in.
Perhaps this means that these forms of communication are innately predisposed to the specific species, which would surely mean language to be innately governed within humans as it’s our way of communication. However one cannot really compare the communications of animals to humans as the humans have a much greater mental capacity than that of any other species. Although other species can communicate, the capacity to talk is a distinct capacity only humans have.
Indeed, the use of language for humans seems to be something that has developed over time. Anthropologists who have studied ancient skulls of humans say the brain probably achieved its existing anatomy more than 50 000 years ago (Pilbeam, 1984) due to the fact it took another 12 000 years for humans to learn to communicate and collect information by writing (Kottak, 2000) it tells us that the human brain has been evolving in terms of our thoughts and linguistic skills even though the structure of the brain hasn’t changed.
If Chomsky’s claim that humans are innately predisposed to acquire language is true, it doesn’t make sense that we haven’t always used vocal language to communicate; the development of primitive language-like systems has happened over thousands of years. If it was innately predisposed surely we would have developed vocal language much sooner. Thus the theory of evolution does not support Chomsky’s claim that humans are innately predisposed to acquire language.
Chomsky (1972; 1988; 1993) expresses strong doubts about the Neo-Darwinism explanations of evolution as he believes Universal Grammar appears to be so specialised and exclusive in its structure and properties, that it is highly improbable that’s is a result of natural selection. To conclude, Chomsky’s claim that humans are ‘innately predisposed to acquire language’ means there is some sort of ‘inborn’ or genetic mechanism containing the ‘Universal Grammar’ this enables humans to acquire language.
This claim is not supported by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as it is proposing that language has always been innate within us and does not support his own theory of natural selection and evolution. The human brain has evolved so vastly over thousands of years that it doesn’t seem possible that language has always been innate within our genetics as Chomsky proposes. Bibliography Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of a theory of syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press Pinker, s. 2000). Language evolution: Reports from the research frontier. New York: Oxford University Press. Chomsky, N. (1972). Language and mind. New York: Harcourt Chomsky, N. (1985). Perspectives in the philosophy of language (pp. 3–44). Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press. Tomasello,M(2008). Origins of human communication. Cambridge: MIT Press Winston, ML. (1987). The biology of the honey bee. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Williams, TD. (1995).
The Penguins. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. Pilbeam, D. (1984) Scientific America, 250, 84-97. Kottack, C. P. (2000). Cultural anthropology (8th ed. ). Boston: McGraw-Hill Chomsky, N. (1975) Reflections on language. New York: Pantheon Books Chomsky, N (1988) Language and the problems of knowledge. Cambridge: MIT Press Chomsky, N (1993) Language and thought. New York: Moyer Bell. Darwin, C (1897) The Descent of Man. USA: Penguin Classics