Monday, August 19, 2013

Reading Brains

In November, Stan Dehaene is coming to Maryland to give the annual Baggett Lectures on language and cognition. To “prepare” myself, I have just finished reading his last book, Reading in the Brain, which I can highly recommend. It appears that our friends in cog-neuro have begun to understand the underlying mechanisms behind our ability to read, tracing it to a confluence of capacities lodged, not surprisingly, in the visual system and FL. The reading trick, again not a surprise, is to figure out how to link morphemes to graphemes (I’m talking about alphabetic reading systems here) and this problem turns out to piggy back on some rather deep facts about the mechanisms that the visual system uses to interpret the physical environment and how different alphabets express the relevant morphemes in a language.  It seems that letters like ‘T’ and ‘F,’ ‘K,’ ‘Y,’ and ‘L’ are “proto-letters” and they exploit capacities central in parsing a visual scene:

The shape T, for example, is extremely frequent in natural scenes. Whenever one object masks another, their contours always form a T-junction. Thus neurons that act as “T-detectors” could help determine which object is on front of which.

Other characteristic configurations, like the shapes of a Y and an F are found at places where several objects of an object meet…All of these fragments of shapes belong to what is known as “non-accidental properties” of visual scenes because they are unlikely to occur accidentally in the absence of any object…(loc 2138 e-book version).

These “natural” shapes find their way into many alphabetic systems thereby allowing the capacities of the visual system to be recycled to undergird the capacity to read.[1]

The second leg of the reading capacity lies in tying graphemes to morphemes. This turns out to be rather difficult.  I was surprised to find out (remember, I come from a philosophy department so I know virtually no phonology and, come to think of it, very little else) that the emerging consensus opinion concerning dyslexia is that stems from “an anomaly in the phonological processing of speech sounds” (loc 3779). It seems that the majority of dyslexic kids have trouble processing phonemes in general (i.e. independent of reading) and that’s why they have trouble matching graphemes (letters) to morphemes in reading.  In other words, it seems that dyslexia is largely a speech processing problem (loc 3801).  Dehaene calls this is a “revolutionary idea,” one that seems “barely credible,” but he argues that the evidence points to dyslexics having a problem with “phonemic awareness” and hence have trouble with the necessary phoneme-grapheme mapping mastery of which is required for fluent reading (loc 3801).

Interesting to me was the information that dyslexia appears to be far less apparent in some cultures than in others. For example, it seems that “dyslexia is hardly ever diagnosed in Italy” (loc 3876), whereas it is a pretty common syndrome in French and English reading cultures. Could dyslexia be nothing more than a cultural “disease”?  Seems unlikely.  And indeed, it is not so.

Rather, the biological propensity is rather stable across readers of different languages but the practical reading problem becomes acute only in cases where “writing systems [are] so opaque that they put a major stress on the brain linking vision to language” (loc 3898).

How this was demonstrated was rather neat.  A research group in Milan (headed by Eraldo Paulesu) scoured Italy for reading impaired individuals who superficially did not seem particularly impaired. However, careful testing showed they were; in particular, “when compared to normal Italian readers, their scores were as deviant as those of groups of French and English dyslexics as compared to control subjects in their respective countries” (loc 3898). In other words, the absolute impairment Italian dyslexics suffer from is less than that afflicting English or French dyslexics though the relative impairment is the same. Conclusion: there is no underlying difference between these populations despite their very different behaviors. I love these kinds of discoveries, ones that penetrate beneath the surface glare to unpack common features of the underlying mechanisms.[2]

Let me end this post noting one more thing that caught my syntactician’s eye. Chapter 7 is a long discussion of symmetry effects in reading. Dehaene reports on “mirror reading” (where (young) readers/writers “spontaneously confuse left and right”). He attributes this to a basic structural feature of the brain, viz. It encodes a symmetry principle “deeply buried in the structure of our cortex” wherein “[o]ur visual brain assumes that nature is not concerned with left and right…” (loc 4228).

It should be obvious why I found this interesting. The Minimalist Program (MP) has taken the position that grammars care exclusively about hierarchical dependencies, treating left/right linear order as a late addition that arises when hierarchical grammatical structures are sent to the S&M system for articulation.  It is curious do find out that the disregard for left/right order is a design feature of certain parts of the nervous system. Specifically, Dehaene recounts the following accepted wisdom: the visual system has two main networks, a ventral what system, which functions to “recognize and label objects,” and a dorsal how system that does things (executes actions) with the objects so identified. Distinguishing left from right, Dehaene notes, likely arises from the dorsal how system and symmetry is a core feature of the ventral what system.

This dorsal/ventral cut has also made an appearance in the cog-neuro of language. Hickok and Poeppel have relatively recently distinguished a ventral and a dorsal pathway for language, the former mapping sound onto meaning and the latter mapping sound onto articulators (see here).  My impressionistic self would love to speculate that FL’s disregard for left/right information is related to its living in a part of the brain that is blind to this kind of information (i.e. maybe the part of FL that maps syntax to meaning (to CI) lives in the ventral stream!).  This comports with the basic MP conceit that FL exploits (in part) structures from extant brainware used for other (non-linguistic) cognitive tasks. So, if the FL mapping to “meaning” lives in the symmetrical (ventral) part of the brain (where high level “object recognition” also resides) then the fact that this mapping ignores left/right information (see here) is what we might expect (is this tenous enough for you?). We might also expect linear (left/right) info to be prominent in the dorsal stream, the part of the brain, which maps representations onto articulatory based representations.

Now, all of this is VERY stream of consciousness and as you all know I am far from being competent to do anything more than ramble here (but hey, what’s a blog for!).  However, it is neat to have discovered that some parts of the brain, as a matter of fundamental organization (one view: symmetry is “inherent in the geometry of our interhemispheric conncections” (loc 4444)), ignore left/right info and that some parts of the language system, the ones mapping to meaning, appear to live in this general neighborhood.

There’s lots more in the book, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I will blog one more post in the near future on another topic that Dehaene takes up in the penultimate chapter. But for now, if you have a couple of days of pleasure reading you are looking to fill, reading about reading is a good way to idle away the hours.

[1] Recycling is the star idea in this book. The term is self-explanatory: cognitive circuits that typically serve one function can be repurposed to serve other ends, an idea congenial to modern day minimalists.
[2] Dave Kush’s analysis of island violations in Swedish has a similar structure. He noted that the relative unacceptability of island violations was similar in Swedish and English (i.e. the same sentence enjoyed the same relative standing in the two languages), despite the fact that what is deemed ok or ? by speakers of Swedish is considered * by speakers of English. Like Paulesu, Kush has argued that the same mechanisms are at work wrt islands in both grammars despite these absolute differences in acceptability ratings. Of course, why this latter difference exists is well worth exploring (and Kush does) but the important common point is that these easily noticeable differences often mask deeper important commonalities.


  1. I love Dehaene's book and particularly his very important concept of "recycling". However, this is NOT the way Chomsky has been talking about language most of the time. In the case of reading, recycling means that there is NO dedicated, biological "faculty of reading". We know for sure, because writing & reading were invented only 5000 years ago. The relevant biological capacities must have been in place way before that. In other words, reading is an app and so is language in my opinion. Dehaene's "recycling" deserves a central place in our theories because it reconciles the biological and the cultural perspectives on language.

    1. Strictly speaking, wouldn't the conclusion to draw be that there's no faculty which is adapted for reading? We know for sure that prior to 5000 years ago there was no selection pressure for the ability to read. However, it seems possible in principle that the capacity for reading developed around the same time as our other linguistic capacities, but wasn't exploited until very recently. Unless we assume that most or all of FL and related systems evolved under adaptive pressure, the relatively late “invention” of writing systems may not tell us very much.

    2. Can you specify what you mean by "capacity for reading"?

      Also, I am not sure based on what you claim that 5000 years ago is too recently for evolution by natural selection to be involved? Has evolution of all components of the LF stopped once Merge mutated into existence? If so, what is the neurobiological evidence for that?

    3. I can't really specify it beyond the obvious. Perhaps 5000 years ago is not too recent; I don't know.

    4. You don't know? Yet, you tell us "that there's no faculty which is adapted for reading". You make similar claims about natural selection in your review of "Of Minds and language" May I ask you based on what expertise you have written this review? How much do you know about "Evolingo", epigenetics, brain wiring optimization, etc.? Can you explain the similarities between the ganglion level connectivity map for Caenorhabditis elegans [p. 113] and the diagram of the cerebral cortex of the cat brain on the next page? If not, how do you know that what Cherniak tells the group is not on the same level of onion-parody as Jan evaluates Uriagereka's chapter [an evaluation that agrees with the one I got from Paul Postal]. Much of the most recent minimalist explanation rests on Cherniak being right - does it not worry you that his "findings" are mostly ignored by working biologists?

      More than half of the book is on topics neither Norbert nor you are experts on. Do you really think it suffices to excuse yourselves by citing Chomsky and "expressing an apology in advance to everyone whose work [you] misrepresent"? Does the apology include the biologists, psychologists, connectionists, evolutionary theorists, etc. whose work was either ignored by the Minimalist Basquers or badly distorted [like Jeff Elman's].

      Remember what David P. said in his 2013 LSA plenary talk: "You wouldn't recognize our field from what they say about it". They being psychologists who had published papers about linguistic matters in some top rated journals. Presumably many biologists etc. would not recognize their field based on what Chomsky & co have said about it. yet you [pl] recommend the volume without any qualification. Do you think that is responsible?

    5. First, reading is an interesting topic in its own right but it's built on language, a surface design of it as Jackendoff put it. Adults (if illiterate) can learn it as they can do table tennis.

      Second, everyone knows there is no answer to Koster's question that would make him or you happy. While minimalists assume as a null hypothesis that there is some non-empty FLN, usage-based grammarians assume FL entirely domain general. Why to prefer this or that has been discussed many times. A nice piece is between Adger and Goldberg.

    6. @Christina I think you're misreading my original post slightly. I was questioning whether, given the assumption that no new cognitive faculties could have evolved as recently as 5000 years ago, we can thereby infer that there is no cognitive faculty for reading/writing. I really have no view on whether or not this assumption is true, or on whether or not there is such a faculty.

      Regarding the review of "Of Minds and Language", I shouldn't think anyone is an expert on all of the subject areas covered in the book. I don't see that we make any claims about natural selection, although (not surprisingly given that it's a review) we do summarize what some other people have said on the topic (last paragraph of p. 351).

    7. See this review paper in Nature Neuroscience earlier this year, where it is estimated--since no one knows for sure--that there might have been about a dozen of positively selected mutations responsible for cognitive functions since our departure from our closest primate relatives. 5000 years does sound like a very short time.

    8. Thanks for the interesting comments. I'll answer in reverse order:
      Charles, I did not say there IS a dedicated reading faculty I only asked based on what Alex KNOWS 5000 years would not have been enough time. I was merely surprised about the certainty, given that on your [=minimalists] story the core of LF itself evolved through a mutation in ONE individual (that must have taken a lot less time than 5000 years, given average life-expectancy 50-100KYA.)

      @Alex, you misunderstood - I had asked about the 'capacity for reading' you cite as being in place vs. a faculty for reading. Unless we are very clear on these two we can not really know what would have to have evolved. And if you believe in the 'punctuated equilibrium' story [cf Gould/Eldridge], then you would accept that rapid evolutionary change CAN occur amidst long periods of stasis.

      Regarding expertise for reviewing a book like "Of Minds and Language": you are absolutely right that no single person is expert in all the fields covered [not even Chomsky]. So reviewers have 2 options: either stating clearly what is and is not covered by their expertise [so the reader - say a primatologist - knows that before deciding that she should buy the book based on your enthusiastic review] or seeking advice from experts. Have a look at the acknowledgments of my review: or, better yet, contact the individuals listed and ask them to explain their work to you before you comment on it. I have found them extremely helpful. If you are interested in evolution also consult the individuals acknowledged here: .

      as for VilemKodytek: I recommend you take remedial philosophy lessons from Norbert before making another 'everyone knows' claim. I cannot speak for Jan. But I would be delighted if someone could give a meaningful answer to the question "what's the novel, non-recycled part of language?". But since you seem so omniscient, maybe you can explain in some detail what this 'non-empty FLN' is, where in the brain it is located, and how it evolved. And please give us all the linguistic details that have been excised at the insistence of the editors of "Science".

    9. @VilemKodytek I am not a "usage-based grammarian" and I am not in favor of a domain-general FL. The beauty of Dehaene's work is that he shows that reading uses very domain-SPECIFIC brain architecture but that it nevertheless does not follow that there is a faculty of reading (in a non-metaphorical, biological sense). Similarly, if the linguistic use of recursion is unique to humans and based on a specific part of the brain, it would not follow that recursion is the biological faculty of language in some narrow sense. Saying that would be as silly as saying that a gas engine is car transportation in the narrow sense.

    10. @Jan Koster: Yes, I know. I have a habit to make things as simple as possible to be able to grasp them - and here it was not fair to you. But despite Christina’s warning, I consider it fair to reiterate that there is no satisfactory answer to your question available at the moment and that we all are well aware of it.

      If language were an invention, cultural creature, one would expect to be developed by experienced speakers. Of course, once available, it can be cultivated by them to fulfil emerging communicative needs, but it is children who have the ability to spontaneously create a language. I don’t know what is novel, but this very fact seems to point to biology rather than culture.

      @Christina: It’d be too bad to be omniscient, imagine: you were in a position not to learn a bit of anything new. However, if omniscience (at least it’s perceived version) can be related to the length of one’s comments, it’s not me who is in jeopardy.

    11. Jan, do you know of any other cognitive objects that have the hierarchical recursive structure characteristic of language. I am not asking this in a hostile manner, just curious. the best candidate I've heard about are planning routines for actions. But they tend not to be nearly as "involved" as we find in the language case. I am thinking of things with embedded hierarchies, headed constituents, categorical rules, "transformations" etc? If we have another example of such it might be possible to decide how unique the language case is. I am open to the possibility that there is nothing unique, just repackaging. But an example would help.

    12. Jonah Katz and I have argued that music (Western tonal music, at least) is such an object. Our paper can be read here. Our take on it, however, is that music is not actually a distinct "cognitive object", no matter how distinct it might appear. Our claim is a bit more nuanced than that: the same combinatory rules used by language apply in music to a very different set of fundamental objects (pitch-classes in a tonal space rather than lexical items). An analogy to reading might be the way in which glyphs get organized in a manner that looks like the combinatory operations of phonology (thinking of Venezky's work here) -- so maybe music is another example of "recycling" in some sense.

      Ironically, Jonah and I build substantially on the much earlier work of Lerdahl & Jackendoff, who reached the exact opposite conclusion than we did about the relation between music and language. See our paper for details and a justification of our conclusions.

      But roughly, what we get from L&J is the observation that musical structure includes embeded hierarchies and headed constituents, and we argue that the phenomenon of cadence in music involves movement (i.e. "transformations") - and we note that L&J's proposals look a lot more like 21st-century syntax than they look like the syntactic theories extent when they did their work in the 1970s, one reason for our opposite conclusions.

    13. @VilemKodytek: I admit you are the first person I [cyber]met who would be bored by having the knowledge to cure cancer or AIDS, to deal with the environmental crisis, end wars etc. etc. I would be delighted were I just able to contribute a tiny bit to one of those - but then I clearly lack your genius...

      As for reading: many kids in China begin learn reading when they are 3 years old. Maybe one day that'll be the norm for us too. And maybe 5000 years from now literacy acquisition will look as effortless as language acquisition now. Will people then be justified to say we have an innate domain specific literacy acquisition faculty?

      All the support for LF we have at the moment is behavioural evidence [kids learn language early and SEEMINGLY without effort]. As for the innate structures that allegedly allow this: we have never seen any of those [or found any neurphysiological evidence in human brains]. We have constantly evolving speculations {I'd say theories but that's not right according to Chomsky]. Some 40 years ago it was OBVIOUS that the innate structures must be very intricate and complex [to allow for correct parameter setting for any possible human language]. Then the minimalist program came along and it became equally OBVIOUS that only Merge [which could have evolved in a single mutation] is in FLN. Then Everett claimed Piraha has no recursion and it became OBVIOUS that FLN could be empty [read Hornstein&Boeckx, 2009: Approaching Universals from Below - maybe Norbert has a link?].

      The behavioural evidence has remained fairly consistent all along [though psychologists have learned a thing or two we did not know 60 years ago - MacWhinney's pioneering work resulting in CHILDESS comes to mind]. No recursive mechanism has been discovered in the brain. So all these changes are on the theoretical level. For that reason it is very surprising to me that once again generativists know what is OBVIOUS in the case of reading...

    14. @Norbert Well, as you mention, planning of action, Davids's musical stuff, etc. However, my point is different and based on the logic of application. Even if language were the only application of the structures in question, you still have the question whether the linguistic function has natural causes (like natural selection) or is the result of human agency (as per the invention of systems of signs). Reading cultural functions into biological structures is what Gould and Lewontin called 'panglossianism'.

    15. @Jan: there is the interesting debate about whether Baldwinian Evolution is involved in language evolution. Before going in detail I wait to hear if you're familiar with it?

    16. @Christina I am not familiar with this particular discussion, but I do remember the Baldwin effect. I once speculated that in the case of language a cultural invention is "rewarded" by evolution by ever increased speed of access of the structures involved. This kind of co-evolution would explain the universality and phenomenally early and speedy access of the structures of language. Is this idea similar to Baldwinian evolution?

    17. Jan, what do you mean by "linguistic function" in your penultimate comment above this one? I'm confused -- putting word-meaning pairs together? using them for communication? something else?

    18. @Jan: Yes, this is [very roughly] the general idea. It has been applied to language evolution by Terry Deacon in "The Symbolic Species" [1997] and earned him the scorn of Chomsky - who alleged Deacon was "barring the procedures of rational inquiry" (Chomsky, 2002, p. 83). In a way that's ironic because Deacon has probably currently one of the best accounts of language evolution that takes the idea that there must be something special about our brains very seriously [and, working on brains, he also knows what he is talking about]. Maybe here's not a good place to discuss Deacon's work but I'll e-mail you one of his recent papers in a moment...

    19. David, you can make a distinction between a recursive combinatorial system and the kinds of objects to which it applies. In the case of language it is used to combine meaningful objects, like words, into more complex meaningful objects. So, take "linguistic function" here as the creation of complex meaningful objects.

    20. Jan, you are, as usual, right about the logic. Nothing in the minimalist program requires that there be a novelty which in combination with what was there before allowed language to emerge. It could be that all the fixin's were there waiting to be cooked up into an FL and all we had to do was wait. In fact, it is possible that all one needs is there in other mammals and if we are patient they will soon be talking up a blue streak or singing Bach cantatas. It's possible.

      However, an equally plausible, IMO, scenario is that there is something biologically special with humans, that we some some kind of operation, circuit, rule, whatever, that is absent in other mammals and that this extra thing is what allowed for the emergence of FL. Of course, this does NOT imply that the circuit was peculiarly linguistic. Maybe it arose quite independently of language. But, I don't see why we should assume this. The following seems like a reasonable (though not necessarily true) story: something special emerged in the domain of language and migrated to other cognitive capacities, e.g. natural numbers, fancy music, etc. After all, once there it can be generally co-opted.But this is not the important question. The one I care about is whether there is anything special about human cognitiion that when combined with more general mammalian cognition gets us to an FL like the one we have, and maybe other fancier forms of cognition as well. I'm fine with the assumption that there exists such a "miracle" so long as it is one (or two). If it does not exist, and if what we have mammals in general also have, then we need some story for why we talk, think, culturate, as we do but they don't.

    21. Norbert, at this level of generality, there is not much we disagree about. So, I will leave the blogosphere now with a sigh of relief...

    22. @Christina: Reading is a technology. Three-year olds are competent speakers so they can start learning it.

      I believe neuroscience will furnish linguistics with a lot of valuable results in near future. So far it still focused most on the input and output (eg. does Broca’s area contribute to speech recognition?). Look at a recent review by Price,

      So yes, there is basically just behavioural evidence so far, but rather convincing. For one, children are able to acquire language from limited data and, for another, they seem to be able to create a new one from scratch. There has to be something prior to it in their heads.

    23. @VilemKodytek: Thanks for the education on reading as technology. I assume you disagree then with the argument made by Ram Frost "Towards a universal model of reading" [BBS, 2012] that there ARE reading universals. Or that every language gets the orthography it deserves. [I disagree too but then i am the one who, on your view, is wrong about everything]. Further, do you also disagree with Hauser about the innate morality stuff? The ability to reply to the trolley problem seems to depend on language. But then again, Hauser is really trusted by Chomsky and contributed two chapters to 'Of Minds and Language' [I discuss them a bit here: but you probably should also read the Drummond/Hornstein review: ] After you read all of this maybe you can inform us why [just like me] you disagree with Frost and Hauser.

      And please tell us about this ability of children to create a new language from scratch.

    24. Frost's paper on reading is an excellent one and I am quite happy with it. I'd say "writing/reading" rather than just "reading" is a technology - we use a devise and finish with a product. Like any other technology, writing/reading is, of course, built on some of our abilities.

      Morality, by my view, is a matter of cultural transmission, but again it must be based on some innate capacities - which is what Hauser might have in mind.

      I will look up some refs on newly emerged sing language for you. I remember that Golden-Meadow wrote a lot about it.

    25. Here you are
      Senghas et al., Science 2004. “Children Creating Core Properties of Language: Evidence from an Emerging Sign Language in Nicaragua”. You’ll find a pdf file on the Web.
      Golden-Meadow et al. 2007.

    26. Thank you. I had hoped you would have NOT referred to the Nicaraguan Sign Language . Very unfortunately you're not the only victim of this hoax that has been dispelled in 2006 [so i am a bit surprised by the publication date but then i have no idea when the paper was submitted]

      Here is a brief account what really happened with this miraculous sign language:

      "When Laura Polich, who specializes in deaf education and is a fluent speaker of Spanish and sign-language expert, visited Nicaragua, she discovered that rather different events had occurred. The former dictator’s wife had sponsored a school for the deaf. An American Peace Corps volunteer had taught American Sign Language at that school, which had close contacts with schools for the deaf in Costa Rica. And the child who had played a central role in the development of NSL had attended a school for the deaf in Spain for eight years. Virtually all the information related by Kegl [that is the researcher who first reported about the instantly emerging sign language] was wrong; the details are in Polich’s 2006 book, whose focus is on the benefits of sign-language instruction to the deaf." [Lieberman, 2013, p. 176]

    27. Hmm. a hoax, you say. Well, I believe I’ve been cautious enough in selecting literature and here I am! It looks like Senghas herself became a victim. And Science, too. And several authors I trust (it wouldn’t be fair to list them now). You gave me a lesson!

      On the hand, I had a look at the page in Lieberman you quote from and around: Hmm, “The Myth of Language Universals” and “Everett’s groundbreaking study”, both on p. 175. Is it science or an ideological war?

      I agree with Lieberman that you can either believe in UG or not. But it is the same in other areas. For example, neuroscientists can either believe in analysis by synthesis or not. Can it be falsified? No. And why it should? It’s a kind of methodology rather than theory.

      I have mentioned sign language creation under this blog earlier. And it was quite quiet around. Why didn’t people shout on me? For what has to be reliable is the empirical data. There was a tsunami of publicity around Hauser but his data were OK. And NSL creation has lived its easy life until now (and maybe will even longer). Thank you.

    28. well the hoax concerns the claim that kids invented a new language from scratch [your claim above]. And at times it has been portrayed like that based on Kegl's misinformation. BTW it would make little sense, don't you think? Kids would invent new languages all the time if things were that easy. [or 'pre-programmed' and Chomsky were right that the main function of language is 'talking to myself' - why would I care if you understand me?]

      So you are critical of Lieberman because he calls Everett's study groundbreaking [in a book aimed at the general reader]. But you are not equally critical when claims about groundbreaking work by Chomsky are made - interesting. Maybe you apply Norbert's new rule: if someone you do not trusts recommends X, X must be bad. I have bad news for you: I think 'Syntactic Structures' was an excellent book - are you now willing to toss it in the garbage? Or maybe willing to learn that, sadly, there are no shortcut in science. And, given human psychology, we're well advised to mistrust most the "results" we want to be true because they confirms our pet theory. Main reason I keep reading Norbert's blogs - I hope he provides some good reasons to question MY pet theories. So far he hasn't....

    29. If anyone is really interested in the facts, please read the review of the foreword by Lieberman on Amazon, and Laura Polisch's book.

      Also, Behme's baseless charge that this was a "hoax" is seriously appalling. There is absolutely no evidence provided for her claim.

    30. Now for the second time; that kids invented a new language FROM SCRATCH is a hoax. If someone has detailed documentation about that I'd love to see it. But I doubt Chomsky [or any minimalist] would be happy about such documentation. If NO input is needed for a sign language, then why does the language faculty need input for spoken language? It would be a very strange language faculty that is so 'divided'. Further, if deaf children are motivated enough by the need to communicate, to creatively improve the language they were provided with, why then is for us hearing people 99.9% of language use internal dialogue and [assuming we're awake 16 hours/day] less than a minute/day language used for communication. [If you find this unbelievable why did none of you criticize Chomsky for making such a nonsensical claim in print?]

      I also suggest again that you [pl] spend less time insulting your perceived opponents and more time thinking about the consequences of the proposals you accept uncritically because they fit your dogma [sorry I would call it theory but seemingly that is a crime too] - to borrow a phrase from Chomsky: in the hard sciences such approach has been given up long time ago.

    31. This comment has been removed by the author.

    32. [Note: the previous comment was overly dramatic, so I truncated the content. lol!]

      As might be expected from your previous comments, you leap before you look. The only thing I am offended by is your misuse of the phrase "critical thinking".

      Now for the second time, you [sg] have shown absolutely NO evidence of it being a hoax. A hoax involves deliberate fabrication. Now, have you shown ANY evidence of deliberate fabrication? Nope.

      So, I suggest you [sg] think a little about what the other person really means before you launch into a noisy cacophony about critical thinking.

      Perhaps, you can get off your silly high-horse and see you are making ridiculous allegations that are, at least as of now, completely baseless. You could even apologize to the aggrieved parties.

    33. I apologize to the aggrieved party for using the term hoax in a different way then you do - merely as a falsehood that has become widely accepted. I did not mean to imply Kegl deliberately spread false information.

      And now maybe you can apply your keen sense of righteousness to Chomsky's recent writing. Before you jump to another conclusion: you would mainly do HIM a favour. The man is brilliant, yet his post 2000 publications are anything but. How do you think historians will look at this work? Do you really want him to become a similarly tragic figure as Lamarck did for evolutionary theory? It is obvious that he ignores the criticism of a linguist of the stature of Postal but maybe he'll listen to his friends and corrects some of the most blatant errors in SoL for example...

    34. Righteousness? people in glasshouses...

      You are clearly on a silly high-horse still. There is no point asking anyone to comment on some criticism you have extended. If you really want to engage people, then come up with something positive. In all the noise you have made on this blog, I don't think I have once seen a positive proposal from you.

      Even a high-school student knows that frameworks/viewpoints/theories come with problems. So, by just criticising, even in the best case scenario, you have told no one anything really new.

      So, tell everyone what your viewpoint is, and how the theories that come up due to that are less criminal and also account for the data that people here are interested it. Then perhaps one can debate the merits and demerits of other proposals.

      It is not that people are running away from your antagonistic viewpoint, it is that you haven't presented one. So, there is nothing to even run away from. There is just noise.

      RE: "How do you think historians will look at this work? Do you really want him to become a similarly tragic figure as Lamarck did for evolutionary theory?" That is for him to decide. He has presented his ideas clearly, and it is for the future to decide whether they continue to be useful. I don't see what role I have to play in this.

      RE: "stature of Postal" - there are many others of equal stature who find his viewpoint useful. This argument from authority is embarrassing.

      Final Note: this will be my last comment in response to you. I originally intended just to correct the record and link to the Amazon review, because both you and Lieberman appear to be mangling the book's content. You can continue to spew your vacuous self-righteous sermons about critical thinking, or about how I haven't responded, however I hope more people will learn to ignore you till you play the game by the rules that everyone else in the business is forced to.

    35. Thank you for the promise not to reply to me any more. I hope you'll keep it. For the benefit of those who have read your sermon just a few corrections:

      1. "It is obvious that he ignores the criticism of a linguist of the stature of Postal" is an observation. I have no idea how anyone could consider it to be an argument, less an argument from authority. Now Postal has put forward specific criticisms here: and it is not clear how it is relevant that other linguists [no matter how accomplished] find Chomsky's ideas useful, when Chomsky has been accused of dishonesty.

      2. No one has claimed none of Chomsky's proposals have been useful. I have criticized particular statements made in particular books. By contrast Norbert has called one of my reviews junk without giving a single example of what was problematic. Are those the rules by which the game is to be played? I hope not.

      3. No one has denied that scientific work has problems. I have asked countless times for a proposal that specifies the BIOLOGICAL properties of LF. There is no point of me coming up with my own proposal {I am neither a linguist nor anymore a practicing biologist] when there are experts who work on the biology of language [Chomsky claims to have done so since the 1950s]. To the best of my recollection Norbert was the only one admitting that he is no expert on biology and does not know. I appreciate the honesty and this is perfectly fine as long as he works as part of a team in which at least someone does the 'biology of LF' part and can tell us how Merge is implemented in brains [or at least how it is thought to be implemented].

      4. I have never said Chomsky's theories are criminal. He has a tendency to distort the work of others [Elman, Deacon, Boden, Everett, Pullum to name a few] but that is no crime.

      5. The rules of the game are fairly confusing: apparently some people [me, Lieberman, Everett, Postal...] are expected to provide ironclad proof for everything they say. Others are never questioned for evidence. At least no evidence was requested for the claim that “Most of the linguistics was excised from
      Hauser, Chomsky and Fitch, for example, at the insistence of the journal[Science]” (Pesetsky, 2013a, slide 107). David is not the only one claiming this, Chomsky has done the same in correspondence. Now here is my constructive proposal of the day: someone [Chomsky?] could publish the original of the paper in which all the linguistic content is still intact in say "Journal of Biolinguistics". It would seem of great benefit to biolinguists and even to those outside the biolinguistic community. It also would show that everyone plays by the same rules [and supplies evidence when asked for it].

  2. I partially agree, which, of course, means I don't fully agree. I think that a Minimalist view (Chomsky suggests this in some places more than others, but I have defended this extensively) is that FL is built *in part* from cognitively recycled material. There is something novel, but it is small and that mean that a lot of what constitutes FL is old brain ware repurposed for linguistic/grammatical ends. If so, then recycling is part of what MP is about (identifying those recycled features) though it does not exhaust what constitutes FL as IS the case with reading. So is recycling part of MP? Yes. Is it identical to what we find in reading. Not exactly.

  3. So, what's the novel, non-recycled part of language?

  4. Jan, you may find an answer in 'Of Minds and language". It is one of the few places I am aware of where a minimalist has attempted to be specific. Since I have been accused of being too incompetent to appreciate this fine volume here is the summary of the chapter I have in mind from the Drummond/Hornstein review:

    "Juan Uriagereka discusses the problems posed by uninterpretable Case features, and a possible solution in terms of the “viral” theory of Case (chapter 12)". (D&H, 2011, 363)

    The syntactician I asked was massively unimpressed by this viral theory, but don't let that distract you. Norbert seems to endorse it because this quote is just a few lines before:

    "It is fashionable nowadays to lament the current state of generative grammar in general, and minimalist syntax in particular. This volume serves as an excellent antidote. In fact, it is a pretty good advertisement, in our view, for the intellectual vitality of the current enterprise." [ibid].

    In case you wonder what this "theory" has to do with your question: Uriagereka speculates that having this virus is what sets us apart from the apes:

    "Now, here is a crucial plus: these Case features are morphemes, not phrases. They do not need, in themselves, any fancy automata to carry their nuances – they are stupid features. Very stupid features, with absolutely no interpretation, which is what sets the entire catastrophe in motion! In other words, these things are fully parseable even at the boring level of speech, which we are granting even tamarins (at any rate, some equivalent motor control). So what did tamarins lack – or more seriously, apes or closer hominids? If we are on the right track here, probably either the resources to come up with the elimination of this Case virus, or perhaps the very virus that started it all" (Uriagereka, 2009, 178-9)

    So the answer to your question seems to be: either the case virus itself or the resources to eliminate it. As syntactician you are in a better position than me to evaluate the linguistic value of this proposal. I refrain from quoting what a virologist I asked about this 'theory' replied since Norbert has made it abundantly clear that such trivialities are beneath minimalists. I should add though that in the discussion Chomsky raises an important problem for this theory:

    "Well, the only comment I wanted to make is that there is a gap in the argument, which in fact is crucial, and that is that granting whatever richness you do for the kinds of things that Randy is talking about, still, to go from there to recursion requires that it be embedded in a bigger structure of the same kind and so on, indefinitely. There is no evidence for that. So however rich those thoughts or constructions may be, that’s arbitrary; it doesn’t carry us to recursion"
    (Chomsky, 2009, 181).

    To disspell another myth: I do not think [nor have I ever claimed] that everything Chomsky says is wrong. He is certainly right on the money here: no matter what you think of the virus-case-theory; it won't get you unlimited recursion. Sadly, Chomsky makes no suggestion HOW recursion is biologically realized and from Uriagereka's answer I gather that he seems to believe some bio-version of string theory could come to the rescue:

    "... complicated syntax is necessary, somewhere: separately or packed into the semantics itself. The question is, how do you get that complexity? And it seems that these ‘‘viral’’ elements have this intriguing warping consequence, which the language faculty may have taken advantage of." (Uriagereka, 2009, 183).

    1. To me, Uriagereka's paper reads like a parody from The Onion, no doubt due to my lack of knowledge of the warping complexities of virology. So, modesty forces me to be silent on these matters.

  5. I'm suspicious of the idea that visual left-right symmetries have much to do with syntax, on the basis that I've always had trouble with them (b vs. d) in school, left turns vs right turns now, but never any issues with earlier/later ordering in language use.