I read this New Yorker article about the Piraha tribe and language
yesterday - long but fascinating.
I've never really bought the Chomsky universal grammar thing. More than anything else, it just seems to be unnecessarily complicated. Children are exposed to a lot
of language from the moment they leave the womb; to me it would seem more surprising if they didn't pick it up so readily. (And, really, we're talking about 5-6 years to adult competence, which is quite a long time.)
There's also not been very much research done on the extent to which surrounding adults model and correct children's language; and although there has been some research on the sorts of error that children make (which Chomsky claims in support of his thesis, on the basis that certain sorts of grammatical error are very rare/never seen), again, given the extent to which they have models around them, I'm not sure that this means much either. If you never
hear construction X, though you hear constructions Y, Z, and A through D, surely it would be more surprising if you experimented with construction X, rather than making mistakes in the correct usage of the other constructions? (The connectionist people are working on computer models of this, with some success.)
Anyway: the Piraha are I think interesting in the extent to which culture and language work together. One of the pro-Chomsky arguments is about the sorts of sign language which deaf children will self-develop; it would be interesting to know what sort of sign language deaf Piraha children would self-develop. My suspicion is that even without being able to hear, the cultural background would affect the grammar; and so Piraha sign language would not fit the Chomskyan universal grammar either.
In other news: I finished my summer dress
, which has come out pretty well.
And yesterday I went along the south bank of the Serpentine to work, & encountered elephants
! Anyone in the vicinity should go visit them.