Berkeley Philosophy Reading Group Message Board › Are Languages Shaped by Culture or Cognition?
Languages evolve in their own idiosyncratic ways, rather than being governed by universal rules set down in human brain patterns. That is the conclusion of a study that compares the grammar of several hundred languages by looking at their evolutionary trees.
Russell Gray, a psychologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and his colleagues examined the relationships between traits such as the ordering of verbs and nouns in four linguistic families, and found no sign of any persistent, universal guiding principles. Their work was published on 4/13/11 by "Nature."
It is already proving controversial. "There is nothing in the paper that brings into question the views that they are arguing against," says Matthew Dryer, a linguist at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
There are thought to be around 7,000 languages in the world today, and they show tremendous diversity in structure. Some, such as Finnish, have complex ways of making composite words, whereas others, such as Mandarin Chinese, have simple, short and invariant words. Some put verbs first in a sentence, others in the middle and yet others at the end.
But many linguists suspect that there is some universal logic behind this bewildering variety that common cognitive factors underpin grammatical structures. US linguists Noam Chomsky and Joseph Greenberg proposed two of the most prominent 'universalist' theories of language.
Edited by Valerie L. on Apr 14, 2011 1:47 PM