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Anti-Anti-Cartesianism: Reply to Suart Shanker

Abstract : There have been many criticisms of “nativism” in “Cartesian linguistics,” attacking positions that neither Chomsky nor any well-known generative grammarian has ever thought to defend. Shanker's polemic is no exception. It involves two spurious claims: (1) Cartesian linguistics (hypothesizing universal, grammar-specific principles that structure any language acquired through usual interaction with the learner's community) vitiates understanding language structure and use; (2) nativism permits linguistic anthropology only to “validate” and “apply” (wrong-headed) generative principles. Briefly, Chomsky's (2000) outlines a language system, LS, of the human brain. LS reflexively discriminates and categorizes parts of the flux of human experience as “language,” and develops complex abilities to infer and interpret this highly structured, and structurally peculiar, type of human production. There is nothing intrinsically different about LS – concerning innateness, evolution or universality – than the visual system (VS), immune system (IS), respiratory system (RS), or any other complex biological system. Much polemic is driven by distaste for “innateness,” “genes,” and “evolution.” Historical and ideological reasons explain this aversion - some well-justified. None bear on universal grammar. Biologists believe all life consists of universal, highly structured codings of biological information (DNA, proteins, genes, cells). Still, biologists go on to explore diversity at many different levels (bacteria, species, individuals, phyla). Similarly, linguistic anthropology can use generative grammar to better comprehend the diversity of languages and the cultural worlds they describe. This includes the very issues about proper names that Shanker highlights.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, September 3, 2002 - 10:43:47 PM
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Scott Atran, Ximena Lois. Anti-Anti-Cartesianism: Reply to Suart Shanker. Current Anthropology, University of Chicago Press, 2001, 42 (4), pp.498-500. ⟨ijn_00000121⟩

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