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“All humans of normal intelligence can learn any language, provided they start at a young age. After the age of five or six, a child can almost never become perfectly fluent in a language, and the ability to learn it can completely disappear soon after that. After puberty, it is almost impossible to perfect the pronunciation of a second language.” Gene, Peoples, and Languages, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza.
Do we speak because we think, or do we think because we speak? The superiority of the human mind is wrapped up in the mystery of human language. Did we become smart because we can talk, or can we talk because we are smart?
To Noam Chomsky, we speak because we think, and we think linguistically, not because it helps us speak, but because it helps us think. Life is about events, with characters and actions that are situated in the past, the present, and the future, and so is our thinking and speaking. We function in networks of connection, with goals of survival, reproduction, cooperation, and deceit. We live stories, and so we think stories. Our minds are literary. We are playwrights, and we are always one of our own characters.
For Chomsky, speech came later, an output of thinking, like a printer is to a computer. There are constraints on sound production, and how speech can be produced, so to Chomsky, speech is always less than thinking. By allowing sharing in the thinking of others, speech increased the power of thinking, and the two – thinking and speaking – then mutually reinforced each other, enlarging our learning, and our scope of collective action. We vanquished the Neanderthal, who were bigger and stronger. They must have had less thinking and less speaking.
Noam Chomsky started linguistics in the 1950’s, when the human mind was thought to be essentially cultural, and development was all from learning. He noted the ease and speed with which children learn language without specific instruction, and accumulated lexicons of words far faster than rote memory could explain. In his book, Syntactic Structures, he suggested that there must be a ‘language acquisition device’ in the human mind, a universal, innate – ‘hard wired’ – brain module that gets primed into function by with exposure to speakers in early years of development.
This was a ground- breaking theory of the roles of nature and nurture in human nature. It ignited the field of brain science, and revolutionized the foundations of all of social science. He is the sixth most cited person in scientific literature, of all time, just behind William Shakespeare.
A master thinker and speaker. no one can speak more clearly, more comprehensively, or more spontaneously about very complex ideas, or give streams of information as they support a reasoned development of conclusions and opinions than Noam Chomsky.
Politics is a different matter.
This theorist of an innate human nature is. . . a radical leftist anarchist. Famous for his ruthless repudiation of behaviorism, he believes in a completely socialist/rationalist, indeed behaviorist notion of human political nature!