Re: [tied] Glen, regarding...

From: ehlsmith
Message: 26298
Date: 2003-10-09

--- In, "Patrick C. Ryan" <proto-
language@...> wrote:
> Dear Ned:
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "ehlsmith" <ehlsmith@...>
> To: <>
> Sent: Thursday, October 09, 2003 1:27 AM
> Subject: Re: [tied] Glen, regarding...
> > --- In, "Patrick C. Ryan" <proto-
> > language@...> wrote:
> > ....
> > > My own view is, as a hypothesis, to seek to explain
> > changes are a result of changing gene frequencies in the
> > speaking the language.
> >
> > and....
> >
> > > <PCR> In my opinion, "social change" can best be understood as
> > reflecting changes in genetic composition. I have no doubt that
> > in certain US states, a certain critical mass of Latinos is
> > power will shift to this group, and changes in the English
> > there will ensue, although national communications media will
> > and somewhat inhibit them.
> >
> > Your scenario may quite possibly be true- but do you actually
> > that genetics would have anything to do with it?!
> <PCR> Yes, I actually do believe that genetic factors are a good
hypothetical cause of phonological change.
> You will notice that in previous messages, I asked for ANY
proposals of other causal factors; and those that were advanced, all
had obvious connections to genetic factors.

Dear Pat,

It is my understanding that those scientist who have studied the
issue believe there are neurological factors involved. Yes, those
neurological factors probably have a genetic basis, but the point is
that they are factors common to _all_ humanity, so while genetics is
involved _genetic variation_ is not.
The hypothesis is that human infants have a unique ability to
discriminate between many subtly different spoken sounds, and
eventually to easily reproduce those sounds- abilities which older
humans have irretrievably lost. Sounds heard frequently in the crib
lead to the development in the malleable brains of infants of neural
circuits devoted exclusively to distinguishing or reproducing such
sounds. The brains of older humans lack this malleability and are
stuck with the circuits they acquired in their own infancy. These
neurological factors are often called "imprinting".

> I find it hard to
> > come up with a more classic example to demonstrate a correlation
> > without causation.
> <PCR> Sorry, I just do not follow this.

[NS] Showing that 2 phenonema will occur together does nothing to
establish that one of them will cause the other; this is the post hoc-
propter hoc fallacy.

> Let us take a concrete example. If a certain segment of a
population substitutes a fricative (/f/) for an aspirated stop
(/pH/), we can make one of two basic assumptions: that segment finds
it difficult (or impossible) to replicate /pH/; or that segment does
not properly hear /pH/, and cannot distinguish it from /f/. Both
scenarios imply physical causes. If the underlying cause is physical
in nature, then it is the result of genetic differences.

[NS] See the neurological explanation above, but even without that I
would dispute your general statement that all causes of a physical
nature must be due to genetic differences. Diet, disease exposure,
climate factors, use vs non-use, etc. etc. could all be involved. In
this specific case of course I contend that use vs. non-use appears
to be a _much_ more likely explanation.

> Certainly there are differences between the two
> > populations in terms of both genetics and pronunciation, but
> > infants from one population brought up by adoptive parents of the
> > other population will speak like their adoptive parents, not
> > genetic parents. You might as well propose that phonological
> > are caused by diet or religion, or what sports one follows.
> <PCR> I acknowledge that, in general, those newborn infants from
the imperfectly replicating population will speak like their adoptive
parents. But why? Perhaps because they will be regularly and
rigorously corrected, and even though great effort is necessary,
eventually they will succeed.

The overwhelming consensus of researchers, as I ubderstand it, is
that no difference in effort is required in language acquisition
between natural children or adoptive children, even adoptive children
from other ethnic groups.

In the imperfectly replicating population, obviously, by definition,
newborn infants will not be regularly corrected, and no great effort
will be necessary.

Under your hypothesis great efforts would be required from them to
acquire the language patterns of their new families, no?

> But the major question, which you do not seem to address, is why an
imperfect replication becomes the norm in a given segment of a
population rather than just an "acceptable" variation.
> Do you have any ideas on that?

[NS] See above.

Ned Smith