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The Biological Basis Of Language Development

4019 words - 16 pages

The Biological Basis of Language Development

"The principles and rules of grammar are the means by which the forms of language are made to correspond with the universal froms of thought....The structures of every sentence is a lesson in logic."


"[H]uman knowledge is organized de facto by linguistic competence through language performance, and our exploration of reality is always mediated by language" (Danchin 29). Most higher vertebrates possess ‘intuitive knowledge’ which occurs as the result of slow evolution of species. However, the ability to create knowledge through language is unique to humans. According to Benjamin Whorf, "language…. is not merely a reproducing instrument from voicing ideas but rather is itself the shaper of ideas…. We dissect nature along lines laid down by language" (Joseph 249). In addition, the development and acquisition of language seems to be related to "complex sequential processing, and the ability to form concepts and to classify a single stimulus in a multiple manner" (Joseph 178). Antione Danchin suggests that the knowledge we create through language allows us distinguish ourselves from the rest of the world to produce models of reality, which become more and more adequate due to the "self-referent loop" which enables us to understand ourselves as objects under study. This "path from subject to object," which is common to all humans, Danchin claims, suggests the existence of a universal feature of language (29).

Biological foundation of language may contribute significantly to such universality. The issue here is not whether language is innate, for, clearly, language must be learned. Nor is the issue whether the aptitude for learning a language is inborn: it takes a human being, with a functional brain to learn a tongue. The question to explore is whether there is biological foundation at the root of organization and internal structure of language.

The scholars considering spoken language acquisition have divided over internal and external causation dichotomy. Two prototypical models of language acquisition are "selectivist" and "constructivist" models, respectively. The selectivist model, which depends on internal causation argument, can be associated with Noam Chomsky. The selectivist model assumes that "language template is pre-organized in the neuronal structure of the brain, so that the fact of being an integral part of a given environment selects the borders of each individual neuronal structure, without affecting its fine organization, which pre-exists" (Danchin 30). The constructivist model, which assumes external causation of language acquisition, follows lines drawn by behaviorists such as Piaget and Skinner. This model assumes that "language is built up constantly from a continuous interaction with a well-structured environment" (Danchin 30).

Noam Chomsky basic argument is that there exists...

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