The Creative Aspect oI Language Use and Nonbiological Nativism

Mark C. Baker
Rutgers University

!"##$%&'()*+&,(%#

The Cognitive Science era can be divided into two distinct periods with respect to the
topic oI innateness. at least Irom the viewpoint oI the linguist. The Iirst period. which
began in the late 1950s and was characterized by the work oI people like Chomsky and
Fodor. argued Ior reviving a nativist position. in which a substantial amount oI people`s
knowledge oI language was innate rather than learned by association or induction or
analogy. This constituted a break with the empiricist/behaviorist/structuralist tradition
that had dominated the Iield beIore that.
The second. more recent period added to the Iirst period`s claim oI innateness the
explicit claim that the innate knowledge in question is to be understood entirely within an
evolutionary biological Iramework. For example. the innate knowledge is taken to be
coded in the genes and to have arisen as an evolutionary adaptation. Within linguistics
anyway. this second period began rather sharply in 1990 with the publication oI Pinker
and Bloom (Pinker & Bloom. 1990). BeIore that work. discussions oI the evolution oI
language were relatively rare and peripheral to the Iield. whereas they have now become
commonplace. It is not that Chomsky. Fodor. and other 'Iirst generation¨ cognitive
scientists ever denied that the innate knowledge oI language was biological in this sense.
But they were not very interested in this aspect and thought there was little to gain in
practice by developing the theory in this way.
In Iact. I believe the current state oI things in linguistics shows that the Iirst
generation`s reticence on these matters was warranted. The basic notion that many oI the
Iundamental principles oI (say) syntax are innate in humans is a powerIul and useIul idea.
and there is occasion Ior the practicing linguist to make use oI it on an on-going. month
by month basis. Questions oI whether such and such a syntactic phenomenon should be
attributed to the innate endowment or not. and iI so in what Iorm. arise regularly and
provoke interesting and proIitable discussion. In contrast. the additional assumption that
this innate knowledge is a genetically encoded evolved adaptation. to be understood with
the tools oI evolutionary psychology has not been powerIul or productive. and ordinary
linguists need not appeal to it on a regular basis. It has not led to any substantive new
discoveries that I am aware oI. nor has it given deeper explanations Ior previously known
but mysterious details about the language Iaculty. Sometimes it might do some damage.
by making researchers unduly conservative about positing a highly structured innate
endowment. in my own personal view. So at best. it has been an inert hypothesis.
allegedly contributing to the Ioundations oI the Iield at a level which is invisible to most
practicing linguists. At worst it has raised mysteries about how the Iields connect that it
does not solve.
DiIIerent people react to this perceived disconnect between (one kind oI)
linguistics and biology in diIIerent ways. Some look at biology and inIer that Universal
Grammar could not be as the Chomskian linguists say it is. Others concentrate on the
attested linguistic data and ignore the biology as being too crude. brutish. and speculative
to have any practical bearing on their linguistic theories. Still others deny that there is any
serious tension at this stage oI our knowledgewhich undeniably has many large gaps in
it. They might hope that the interIace between linguistics and biology will become a
practical and meaningIul one as work continues to progress in both generative linguistics
and evolutionary psychology.
In this paper. I want to explore another possible reaction to this practical
disconnectionnamely. the idea that there could be some innate ideas and/or processes
that are not strictly biological in nature. The usual argument in Iavor oI the evolutionary
psychology approach to innate structure in language is the 'it`s the only game in town¨
argument. Pinker and Bloom (1990). Ior example. emphasize that adaptive evolution is
the only scientiIic explanation Ior Iunctional complexity. Similarly. in a more general
context. Carruthers (Carruthers. 1992) notes that the attraction oI evolutionary
psychology is that it provides a way oI naturalizing nativism. Perhaps so. but this sort oI
argument in a domain where explanatory success is limited oIten sounds to me like an
argument Irom the poverty oI imagination. There is. oI course. no !"#$%&! entailment
Irom nativism to biological nativism. The historical prooI oI this is that nativism is older
than biology as a theoretical Iramework. The original. 17
th
century brand oI nativism
espoused by Descartes. Leibniz. and others long predates the main results oI modern
biology with which nativism is now associated in what Fodor (Fodor. 2000) calls the
'new synthesis¨.
1
So the idea that there might be innate structure to the (human) mind
that is not explained by current biology is a logical possibility. to be decided Ior or
against by the weight oI empirical evidence. This is the Ioundational question I propose
to consider in this paper. More speciIically. I will argue that there is no evidence in Iavor
oI the additional biological assumption and a little evidence against it when it comes to
our understanding oI at least one important aspect oI the human capacity Ior language.
My discussion will unIold in the Iollowing stages. In section 2. I review
Chomsky`s paradigm-deIining claim that the human capacity Ior language involves not
only oI the well-studied components oI a vocabulary and a grammar. but also what he
calls the Creative Aspect oI Language Use` (CALU). In section 3. I present what are. as
Iar as I know. the Iirst explicit arguments that this third component is (like syntax)
substantially innate in humans. Section 4 then asks whether the kinds oI evidence that
have sometimes been used to argue that syntax is part oI standard biology are replicated
Ior the CALU. claiming that they are not. In particular. I look brieIly at evidence Irom
neurolinguistic studies oI aphasia. at genetic syndromes that target language. and at
comparisons with other primates. Section 5 argues that it should not be a surprise that the
CALU has not been explained biologically. since it cannot even be characterized
computationally; it is an intrinsically abductive capacity and the computational theory oI
mind does not account Ior true abductive processes. In this. I draw a link between
Chomsky`s concerns about the CALU and Fodor`s concerns about abduction as showing
the limits oI the current cognitive science paradigm.

2. A Factoring of the Language Faculty


1
And indeed the nativist tradition is even much older than this. including Plato and many pre-modern
Christian thinkers.
II one wants to inquire into which parts oI a complex phenomenon X (language) are to be
attributed to theory Y (say evolutionary biology) and which parts are not. it is helpIul to
have some idea oI what the maior parts oI X are in the Iirst place. What then might be
the parts oI the human language Iaculty?
In Iact. Chomsky proposed a Iirst pass answer to this question back at the start oI
the cognitive revolution. in the 1950`s (Chomsky. 1957. 1959). All oI the successes in
modern generative linguistics since that time arguably depend on his answer. whether this
is realized or not. Basically. Chomsky Iactored language into three components (each oI
which could. oI course. have great internal complexity): the lexicon. the grammar (syntax
in the broad sense
2
). and what he came to call the Creative Aspect oI Language Use`. or
CALU (Chomsky. 1966). In dividing up language in this way. he was making a practical
and methodological decision; he was trying to distinguish those questions that were open
to meaningIul inquiry given the current state oI knowledge. and those that were not. His
claim was that syntax could be investigated. but the CALU could not Ior the Ioreseeable
Iuture (Chomsky. 1959). (Later. by 1975. he began to entertain the idea that we will
never understand the CALU component. because it Ialls outside the domain oI what our
cognition can handle. much as the notion oI a prime number Ialls outside the domain oI
rat cognition (Chomsky. 1975).) The proiect. then. is to explain what sentences like
'Colorless green ideas sleep Iuriously¨ and 'Harmless little dogs bark quietly¨ have in
commonthe property !"#$$#%&'#(and not to try to explain why or in what
circumstances a person would be more likely to say one rather than the other (Chomsky.
1957). To use an analogy Irom the construction industry. the lexicon is like the bricks.
mortar. and other building materials. while the grammar is like the building codes. which
speciIy ways in which these materials can be combined to make larger units. such as
walls. rooIs. rooms. and ultimately houses. These two Iacets oI the language Iaculty we
have a reasonable hope oI uncovering and understanding. according to Chomsky. But the
construction industry would not get very Iar with iust raw materials and building codes.
It also needs architects to decide where the walls should go in particular cases to achieve
a desired eIIect. and contractors to actually assemble the raw materials into walls in ways
consistent with but not uniquely determined by the strictures oI the building codes. In the
same way. the human capacity Ior language must consist oI more than a lexicon and a
grammar; it also contains the power to assemble the words in accordance with the
grammar to make actual sentences. It is this capacity that Chomsky calls the CALU.
identiIying it Ior the purposes oI distinguishing it Irom grammar and putting it aside. at
least in the bulk oI his technical work.
This distinction is so much part oI the common ground. at least Ior generative
linguists. that it is easy to miss how important it is. But the pre-Chomskian behaviorist
tradition crucially did not Iactor language in this way. For them. the proiect was to
predict (and control) what a person would say when presented with a particular stimulus.
as a result oI the person`s history oI conditioning (Skinner. 1957). By Iraming the proiect

2
The broad sense oI syntax that Chomsky used at that time included also the phonology and aspects oI
what would now be called semanticsall oI language that is rule-based and compositional. In this paper.
I`ll use grammar and syntax more or less interchangeably. For the broad construal oI syntax. this is
accurate; Ior the narrower sense oI syntax (how words are combined to make sentences) it is not accurate.
but harmless. Narrow syntax is not identical to grammar. but it is an important and representative subpart
oI grammar.
in this way. they were attempting to explain the Iorm and the content oI a sentence all at
the same time. and in the same terms. For example. a certain visual stimulus would
trigger a particular set oI words by association. those words would trigger additional
words by association. and Iinally the collection oI words so activated might trigger a
simple syntactic Irame into which all those words could be slotted. again by association.
Thus. looking at a Rembrandt canvas might trigger the word Dutch`. and the canvas
and/or the word Dutch itselI might trigger great` and painter`. Then these three content
words together might trigger the Irame The were s` resulting in the
utterance The Dutch were great painters.` What is being said and the structural
conditions on it come about by essentially the same theoretical devices. And that way oI
looking at the problems oI language proved empty and sterile. as Chomsky demonstrated
with Iorce. So verbal behavior` remained a weak point Ior Behaviorism because it did
not distinguish the CALU Irom grammar and lexicon. In contrast. language became a
domain oI great accomplishment and credibility Ior cognitive science because Chomsky
did make this distinction.
Chomsky`s Iullest positive characterization oI what the CALU is in Chomsky
(Chomsky. 1966). where he discusses with approval Descartes` observations about
human language expressed in Part V oI A Discourse on Method. The Creative Aspect oI
Language Use. Chomsky says. is the human ability to use linguistic resources
(vocabulary items and syntactic rules) in a way that has three properties simultaneously:
it is (i) unbounded. (ii) stimulus-Iree. and (iii) appropriate to situations. Descartes was
interested in this constellation oI properties because he believed that it could not be
explained in purely mechanical terms. within a theory oI contact physics. Descartes
observed that no animal had communicative behavior (or any other behavior) that had
these properties. nor did any automaton. existing or imaginary. He wrote:

OI these the Iirst |test| is that they |machines| could never use words or other
signs arranged in such a manner as is competent to us in order to declare our thoughts to
others: Ior we may easily conceive a machine to be so constructed that it emits vocables.
and even that it emits some correspondent to the action upon it oI external obiects which
cause a change in its organs; Ior example. iI touched in a particular place it may demand
what we wish to say to it; iI in another it may cry out that it is hurt. and such like; but not
that it should arrange them variously so as appositely to reply to what is said in its
presence. as men oI the lowest grade oI intellect can do. . For it is highly deserving oI
remark. that there are no men so dull and stupid. not even idiots. as to be incapable oI
ioining together diIIerent words. and thereby constructing a declaration by which to make
their thoughts understood.

Descartes (and Chomsky) observes that it is easy to imagine machines that utter a limited
number oI words or set phrases. These words or phrases could be uttered
deterministically. whenever a certain stimulus is experienced. or they could be uttered
randomly. with no connection to the environment. What is special about human language
behavior is that we 'arrange |words| variously¨ (i.e. in an unbounded way). not in a
reIlex-like way determined by stimulus. and yet also not randomly but rather 'so as
appositely to reply to what is said in |our| presence¨ and 'construct a declaration by
which to make |our| thoughts understood¨ (i.e. in ways that are appropriate). That our
language use is unbounded is not enough to make it creative: it would not be creative to
repeat back unchanged an inIinite variety oI sentences that we hear in our presence. That
our language use is stimulus-Iree is not enough to make it creative: it is not creative to
speak words randomly. And it is not enough that it be appropriate: it would not be
creative to produce the three utterances 'Danger: snake¨. 'Danger: eagle¨ and 'Danger:
leopard¨ in the correct circumstances.
3
But behavior that is simultaneously unbounded.
not determined by stimuli. and (not random but) appropriate is special. That is what
Descartes took as being suIIicient evidence that a creature has a mind. and what
Chomsky said must be put aside iI one was to make progress on understanding other
aspects oI language in generative. computational terms.
How does Chomsky`s tactical decision to Iactor the problems oI language into
vocabulary. syntax. and the CALU look 50 years later? The answer is that it still looks
good. Chomsky was right that grammar/syntax could be ripe Ior investigation in terms oI
then-new Iormal notions like recursive rules. and linguists have Iull bookshelves to prove
it. This has led to enormous new discoveries about the structure oI English and hundreds
oI other languages. In contrast. there has been essentially no progress on the CALU. and
the bulk oI linguists have Iollowed his advice not to pursue iteven to the point oI nearly
Iorgetting that it is there. And yet no reasons have come to light to deny that the CALU
exists. We know a lot more about the building codes Ior sentences than we didand a
bit more about the building materials themselvesbut not signiIicantly more about the
architects and contractors. Yet we must still assume that the architects and contractors
exist. simply because there are actual sentences around us which do more or less comply
with our building codes but which our building codes cannot account Ior the existence oI
or aspects oI the nature oI. We can say why the obiect Iollows the verb in a particular
sentence. iust as we can say why the wall Iorms a right angle with the Iloor. But our
grammar cannot say why that particular obiect was used with that verb on that occasion.
iust as our building code cannot say why that wall is exactly there in that particular
house.
II we accept this division oI the language Iaculty into (at least) the vocabulary. the
grammar. and the CALU. we can then go on to ask Ior which oI these is there evidence
that it is innate. Then we can ask Ior which oI these is there evidence that it is biological
in the usual sense. And Iinally we can ask whether the answers to these two answers
match.
BeIore proceeding to that. however. let me pause to comment on why it is easy
Ior cognitive science. evolutionary psychology. and related theories to overstate their
results. It could be that the Iield is based on certain decisions about how to delimit the
domain oI inquiry that have become so much part oI our habits that we Iorget about them.

3
See Cheney and SeyIarth (Cheney & SeyIarth. 1990) ch. 4. 5 Ior detailed discussion oI vocal
communication among vervet monkeys. They show that the alarm calls oI the vervets are not only
appropriate but may also be stimulus Iree. At least they are not reIlex-like. because the calls are not
automatically triggered by the seeing oI a certain predator; they can be suppressed iI an animal is alone or
in the presence oI rivals rather than kin/allies. They perhaps can also be IalsiIied in order to distract or
scare oII a rival band oI monkeys. But even iI they are used in these creative` ways. there is no doubt that
the vervet communication system is strictly bounded. consisting oI less than 10 distinct vocalizations and
no system Ior combining them compositionally. This is another illustration oI the point that all three
CALU characteristics are needed to qualiIy as true Cartesian creativity. (I thank Steve Lawrence Ior
pointing out this reIerence to me.)
This is especially tempting when our theories aspire to completeness along one
dimension. For example. it might not be so Iar Irom true that iI you give me any English
sentence I can parse its phrase structure completely. identiIy its nonlocal dependencies.
and so on. Suppose then that I had a complete grammar Ior English. I could in a sense
legitimately brag that my cognitive science can give me a complete theory oI English.
But that does not mean that I have made the slightest progress on the question that
Skinner thought was important: how to predict (and control) what particular English
speakers would say when presented with a stimulus. Would they say Harmless little
dogs bark soItly` or Colorless green ideas sleep Iuriously`sentences that are entirely
the same as Iar as my so-called complete` theory is concerned. There could be another
whole dimension to the phenomenon. which I am prone to ignore.
4


!"#$%#&'(#)*+,#$--.&(/#

Let`s then work with this idea that the human language capacity consists oI three possibly
complex Iactors: vocabulary. grammar. and the CALU. Then we can ask which oI these
are innate. I accept the Iamiliar Chomskian arguments that grammar is largely innate.
apart Irom a limited number oI parameters that are Iixed by experience (see Baker 2001
Ior some review and discussion). I will not consider the vocabulary at all. although I note
that its overall structure might very well be innate too. even though the particular sound-
meaning pairs certainly are not. (See. Ior example. Baker (Baker. 2003) Ior arguments
that the same three-way distinction between nouns. verbs. and adiectives is Iound in all
languages. although a particular notion such as tall` might be expressed as a noun in one
language (John has tall|ness|`) or a verb (John talls`) or an adiective (John is tall`). I
Iocus instead on the little-discussed CALU. and ask whether the same kinds oI arguments
that show that grammar is innate can be constructed also Ior it.
One kind oI evidence that syntax is largely innate comes Irom the Iact that it is
universal in the human species. For example. it is thought that every language in the
world distinguishes grammatical subiects Irom obiects. and contains basic structures in
which the obiect is more closely grouped with the verb than the subiect is (Baker. 1988).
Is the CALU similarly universal? The answer is. oI course. yes. Every society uses its
language in the Iree expression oI thought. In every society people spontaneously make
up new sentences in a way that is not controlled by their environment or any simple
characterization oI their internal states. but that is seen as appropriate and purposeIul in
the situation. We know oI dolls and stuIIed toys that give a Iixed range oI set responses
in a mechanical or random Iashion. but we don`t know any people groups that are like
this. This applies to the long-isolated tribesman oI places like Tasmania and the New
Guinea highlands as much as to any other group. I know oI no controversy on this point
whatsoever.

4
When I say that the language Iaculty is Iactored into the lexicon. the grammar. and the CALU. I don`t
necessarily mean that any oI these are speciIic to language. They could be more general mental capacities
that can be applied to language. For example. the lexicon is probably at least deeply connected to a more
general conceptual system which can also be deployed in other ways (say. in nonverbal reasoning. below
the level oI consciousness). Similarly. the CALU may be nothing more than the human Iree will`
(whatever that is) being exercised in the domain oI language. I intend to leave this entirely open. In any
case. language is interesting because it reveals our Iree will most Iully and richly. as understood by
Descartes. as well as Turing (Turing. 1950) and others.
A second kind oI evidence that syntax is largely innate comes Irom the Iact that it
emerges so early. beIore children have learned many other things that seem simple to us.
It has been shown that the very Iirst two-word utterances oI children. which appear
beIore the age 2. already show evidence oI syntactic structure. English children say
want cookie` whereas Japanese children say cookie want`. showing the particular kind
oI Iixed word order that the Iull language they are learning speciIies (Bloom. 1970;
Brown. 1973; Slobin. 1985). Even more spectacularly. French children consistently put
Iinite verbs beIore negation and nonIinite verbs aIter negationeven though they don`t
yet use nonIinite verbs in the correct. adult-like way (Deprez & Pierce. 1993). This
argument also applies to the CALU: children`s early utterances are also stimulus-Iree and
purposeIul. They are not. oI course. unbounded at the two word stage. by deIinition. But
there is much reason to think that the two-word utterances are abbreviations oI larger
structures that the child has in mind but cannot utter yet (Bloom. 1970). There is a Iair
amount oI variety even in two word utterances. as children make diIIerent choices about
which oI a range oI semantic relationships to express on a given occasion. And. more
signiIicantly. there is no three word stage`. AIter a Iew months. language use explodes
in an unbounded Iashion so that it is no longer possible to enumerate the structural
combinations the child uses. Children`s utterances also may not be appropriate in the
adult`s sense; they are oIten tactless and abrupt. Ior example. But that is not the sense oI
approriateness is at issue in the CALU; rather. the point is that the children`s utterances
are not random strings oI words that arise by Iree association. And in any case. it is clear
that CALU behavior is Iully in place long beIore children start kindergarten.
By Iar the most important argument Ior innateness is the poverty oI stimulus
argument. which has several Ilavors. Since this is the most important consideration. and
since it could be controversial. I will linger over it a bit. Then I will mention two variants
oI this argument that have been used in the case oI syntax. which seem also apply to the
CALU.
The basic idea oI poverty oI stimulus arguments is that there is richness and
structure in the cognitive state arrived at by the child that is not present in the child`s
environmentor at least not in the data available to the child. (See. Ior example. Crain
and Pietroski (Crain & Pietroski. 2001) Ior a recent review and discussion.) Typically.
this arises when the data is ambiguous in a certain way: either grammar A or grammar B
could create the observed sentences. and children never hear a crucial example that one
grammar can account Ior and the other cannot. but yet one can show that the children all
end up with grammar B. The conclusion is that they must have had some kind oI innate
bias toward grammar B rather than grammar A. As a linguist actively involved in
Iieldwork. I can attest that this sort oI situation !"#$%$&!''&()%&(#*%. I constantly Iace the
Iact that even iI I have been working hard on a language Ior years. some structure comes
up such that nothing I know tells me whether it is possible or not. I need to resolve the
matter by coaxing a native speaker into iudging some careIully engineered sentence. but
children somehow resolve the ambiguity without that opportunity.
There are several ways one might try applying poverty oI stimulus reasoning to
the CALU. Suppose that the CALU were not innate. That would mean that the child
somehow picks it up Irom its environment. And there are various things to learn. The
simplest might be: My parents are not automata.` They are using their vocabulary and
grammar to make sentences in a way that is neither stimulus-bound nor random. but
rather in a way that is appropriate and purposeIul. The second thing to learn. which may
come Irom that is I should not be an automata; I too may make sentences that are
unbounded and stimulus Iree. yet appropriate to the situation and my goals.` The third
and most important thing to learn would be !"# not to be an automatonhow to develop
the capacity to use the language in this way.
The last and most important version oI this question I think we cannot even Irame
at this point. We have no theory. computational or otherwise. oI how knowledge oI
vocabulary and grammar can be used to make an inIinite variety oI sentences in a way
that is neither determined nor random. (I discuss this at more length in section 5.) And
since we have no precise way to speciIy the knowledge that this capacity depends on or
the process that it involves. we cannot estimate the amount oI inIormation that is
involved. II we had Iree-speech programs. we might be able to count the bits in the
simplest such programs. Then we could compare that to the inIormation that is
realistically accessible to children in their environment. and see whether it is
commensurate. But we have no such programs. so we have no such measure. Since we
don`t know what the CALU is with any precision. we cannot know what would be
required to learn it. ThereIore we also cannot know whether the inIormation that is
needed is accessible in the environment oI the child.
I thereIore retreat to what might be the simplest in this cluster oI ideas: the
question oI whether my parents are automata or not. Surely mature people know that
they are not. and it has great signiIicance in how they livein particular how they talk to
others. We do not talk in a Iree. unbounded way to things that we believe are automata.
such as dolls and voice-menu systems on the phone. So part oI the CALU is knowing
who to use it withnamely those that have the CALU capacity themselves. Now either
the notion that my parents are CALU users. not automata. is innate. or it is learned.
Suppose it is learned. How could it be? What kind oI experiences would the child have
with other people that would convince him that they are not automata?
5
Are those kind
oI experiences available to the child? II not. and iI children do regularly acquire this
belieI. then we have a poverty oI stimulus argument that applies to at least this important
part oI the CALU. And I assume that iI poverty oI stimulus arguments apply to this the
simplest component oI the CALU. then a Iortiori they probably apply to the other. more
complex and mysterious aspects oI the CALU as well.
We can get some hints that poverty oI the stimulus might apply Irom the Iact that
(unlike children?) some intellectuals have thought that people are automata in the
relevant sense. Skinner and the behaviorists. Ior example. thought that people`s verbal
behavior was not stimulus-Iree. Descartes used the CALU as his test Ior other minds.
but many oI his contemporaries were not particularly impressed with this test. and
considered it a weak point in the Cartesian Iramework. Turing. who did so much to

5
This question is similar to and may be related to the question oI how a child acquires a 'Theory oI Mind¨.
as studied by Alan Leslie (Leslie. 1994) and others. But it is not identical to it. A child can decide that
another creature has belieIs he knows to be Ialse without explicitly using language. Ior example. One can
also very well imagine another creature has belieIs and intentions while still not showing Cartesian
creativity in language use. Chenny and SeyIarth (1990) tentatively believe this about vervet monkeys. Ior
example. So the CALU question and the theory oI mind issue are partly independent. (On the other hand.
it seems very unlikely that a creature could show Cartesian creativity in language use but not have belieIs
and intentions that are maniIested by their language use. That is more or less the point oI Descartes` test
Ior other minds and Turing`s test Ior intelligence in machines. So the two issues are not unrelated.)
Iormalize the notion oI computation. thought that it would be possible Ior a
computational device to use language in a way that would be indistinguishable Irom how
people use it by the year 2000 (Turing. 1950). This suggests that. iI it is true that people
use language in a way that cannot be characterized as either deterministic or random. the
evidence Ior this is subtle and not easily observable.
We can get a more concrete handle on this by recalling the disagreement between
Chomsky and the behaviorists. The behaviorists believed that people`s utterances (as
well as their other behavior) was determined by the stimuli that impinged on them plus
some (very impoverished) sense oI their internal state; Chomsky did not believe this.
How did Chomsky argue against the behaviorists. and is the evidence he used observable
to a child? Chomsky (Chomsky. 1959) started Irom an example oI Skinner`s in which
someone looks at a painting and Skinner says 'one could very well say Dutch`¨.
Chomsky agrees. but adds that one could iust as well say any variety oI other things as
well. including clashes with the wallpaper`. I thought you liked abstract work`. Never
saw it beIore`. Tilted`. Hanging too low`. beautiIul`. hideous`. remember our
camping trip last summer`. or whatever else might come to our minds when looking at
a picture. So we can have an unbounded number oI responses to the same stimuli. many
oI which could count as appropriate to the situation (and hence not random). Suppose
that we agree that Chomsky`s argument is correct and compelling. The question is. is the
crucial Iact it hinges on observable? Is it the sort oI thing one can see in another. and
hence conclude that he is not an automaton? I think the answer is No`. or at least Not
easily`. Suppose that Chomsky`s child had a chance to observe Chomsky in Iront oI
Skinner`s painting. He cannot observe the many things that Chomsky knows he might
have said; he can only observe the one thing that Chomsky did in Iact say on this
particular occasion. That observation is perIectly consistent with the view that
Chomsky`s response is determined by the stimulus; maybe he always says iust that when
he is conIronted with such a picture in such a situation. Since his child has never seen
Chomsky in !"#$%&' that situation beIore. there is no evidence against the automaton
theory. Perhaps the child could compare Chomsky`s responses to similar situations over
time. but that would not be easy; one would have to decide what situations counted as
similar in the relevant ways and keep track oI a potentially unbounded amount oI data to
resolve the question in this way. Chomsky`s argument is compelling when we put
ourselves in that position: we have an inner sense oI Ireedom that says 'Yes. I could in
Iact say any oI those things.¨ But we cannot observe someone else`s sense oI Ireedom in
this way; we can only indirectly evaluate whether they say a suggestive subset oI the
things that we would say in exercising our Ireedom. ThereIore. there is a poverty oI
stimulus argument here. II other people are stimulus-Iree in their language use and iI we
all come to know this. it is not on the basis oI readily observable data. Thus. this belieI is
likely to be innate.
Now consider the other way that the CALU could Iail to hold: verbal behavior
could be stimulus-Iree. but not appropriate. In that case. it could be modeled not as a
deterministic computation. but rather as one that has some kind oI random component.
Chomsky (Chomsky. 1957) argued against this kind oI view. and again he used
unobservable data to do so. He considered a Iamily oI views that assumed that the nth
word one utters is some kind oI probabilistic Iunction oI the previous n-1 words. To
argue against this. he asked the reader to imagine the sequence I saw a Iragile --.` He
suggests that one has never heard the word whale` Iollowing this sequence oI words. nor
has one ever heard the word oI` there. So both words have probability 0.0 as
continuations oI the sentence. And yet we have very diIIerent reactions to the two
sequences: I saw a Iragile whale.` is grammatical. whereas I saw a Iragile oI .` is
not. Chomsky concludes that grammaticality is not a matter oI statistics or statistical
approximation. I saw a Iragile whale` is grammatical but not used because it is (almost
always) inappropriate. whereas I saw a Iragile oI` is ungrammatical. Contrasts like this
show that language use is not a stochastic process. that we have knowledge oI language
that goes way beyond the conditional probabilities oI one word appearing in the context
oI other words. But notice that once again the data this argument depends on is not
readily observable. Imagine that a child is entertaining the hypothesis that his parent is a
random word generator. He will not be able to resolve the question in the same way that
Chomsky did. since by hypothesis he never observes the parent saying either I saw a
Iragile whale` or I saw a Iragile oI`. The relevant Iact is that the parent !"#$% (in some
respects) say the Iormer but not the latterbut what the parent could do but never does is
not observable. Again we have a poverty oI stimulus issue. II people are not random
word generators. and iI we come to know that this is so. then it seems that this cannot be
because we reliably have direct access to unambiguous crucial evidence. Rather. the idea
is probably innate.
I have. oI course. only considered two extreme positions: that my parents` verbal
behavior is completely determined. or that is completely random. Lots oI other. hybrid
combinations are possible. which include both deterministic and random elements. but
are still compatible with my parents being automata. For example. suppose that aIter
hearing I saw a Iragile it is determined that the next word will be a noun. but random
what particular noun it will be. That would account Ior the whale` vs. oI` intuition
without positing a mysterious CALU Iaculty. And I suppose that must be what the Iully
committed computationalist who doesn`t believe in mysteries must believe. I`m not
really trying to press that point here. But it does reemphasize the poverty oI stimulus
point. II language users do in general have the (possibly tacit) belieI that other people
use language in a way that is neither determined by their situation nor random. but rather
accomplishes communicative goals related to the Iree expression oI thought. then they
did not arrive at the belieI by raw observation. It is very likely to be an innate belieI.
And since this is related to the CALU more generally (telling us who we should employ
the CALU with). the CALU complex as a whole is probably also innate.
In the domain oI syntax. there are other sub-varieties oI the poverty oI stimulus
argument that one might try to apply to the CALU as well. For example. it has been
claimed that children learning syntax never make certain kinds oI errors. More
precisely. they make errors that show that they do not know the idiosyncratic details oI
the language they are learning (as you`d expect) but not errors that violate Universal
Grammar. They make mistakes with the parameter settings. but not with the invariant
principles. This suggests that they are testing hypotheses when it comes to the
parameters. but they are taking the principles Ior granted (see. Ior example. work by
Stephen Crain. Rosalind Thornton. etc.). The parallel question would be whether
children ever make mistakes with the CALU. Do they go through a period where they
seem to be interpreting those around them as automata. whose words are some
combination oI determined and random. rather than purposeIul and selI-expressing? Do
they go through a period in which they themselves act this way? II so. that would show
that they are trying out the hypothesis that people have a vocabulary and a grammar. but
no CALU. But surely they do not do this. II there is any stage in which children act and
interpret others as automata. it must be beIore the language explosion in the third year oI
liIeand beIore this there is not much evidence Irom language use at all. one way or the
other.
A Iinal variety oI the poverty oI stimulus argument that has been applied to syntax
is to look at language development in abnormal. unusually impoverished environments.
II the experience available in such an environment is clearly reduced. but there is little
discernable impact on the knowledge attained. that is taken as evidence that the
knowledge in question has a large innate component. One classic linguistic example is
creolization. when. as a result oI the brutalities oI the slave trade children did not get an
adequate sample oI any one native language to acquire it properly. What seems to
happen is that they create a new language Irom the available parts that has its own UG-
obeying regularities. not attributable to the mishmash oI pidginized material spoken
around them (Bickerton. 1981). Another classic example is congenitally deaI children oI
hearing parents. who are isolated Irom spoken language by their lack oI hearing and who
are isolated Irom sign language by accident or design. In these situations. deaI children
in interaction with their care-givers make up a sign language de novo. and these home
signs` are claimed to have many oI the characteristics oI more ordinary human languages
(S. Goldin-Meadow & Mylander. 1983). The quality oI the Iacts in these areas is
controversial. but all agree that how they turn out has bearing on issues oI innateness.
The question now is whether similar arguments could be constructed that would
bear on the innateness oI the CALU component oI language. The answer seems to be
yes. Probably no child has been exposed to a rich vocabulary and a Iull-Iledged grammar
who has not also been exposed to language use that is unbounded. stimulus Iree. and
appropriate; the CALU was presumably modeled in the pidgin utterances on the sugar
plantations. even iI grammar was not. Ior example. But the case oI deaI children not
exposed to standard sign languages is relevant. since they have essentially no
independent model oI language use at all. Nevertheless. the home signs they develop
seem not to be used the not mechanistically. but Ior the Iree expression oI thought.
Indeed. it is presumably in part the deep human need to interact in this way that pushes
them to create their own new vocabulary and grammar in the Iirst place. Such cases were
apparently known already to Descartes. who writes:

In place oI which men born deaI and dumb. and thus not less. but rather more than
the brutes. destitute oI the organs with others use in speaking. are in the habit oI
spontaneously inventing certain signs by which they discover their thoughts to those who.
being usually in their company. have leisure to learn their language. (p. 45)

Modern work on home sign systems by Susan Goldin-Meadow and her colleagues bears
out Descartes` observation. There seems to be no doubt that children use their gestures in
ways that are appropriate in the Descarte/Chomsky sense oI not random and expressive
oI their thought. Home signs are perhaps more bound to the immediate situation oI
utterance than conventional languages are. because they tend to lack (a rich set oI nouns)
and rely on pointing to reIer to things. But this does not mean that they are not stimulus-
Iree; it is not at all the case that children utter the same sign sentences mechanically when
they are put in the same situations. The biggest concern might be whether the home sign
systems are unbounded. Home sign sentences tend to be short. with a mean length oI
utterance oI only 1.2 or 1.3 signs per utterance (S. Goldin-Meadow & Mylander. 1983).
compared to MLUs oI close to 3 Ior speaking children oI comparable ages. But it is
hardly surprising that there is some developmental delay. given the extreme
empoverishment oI the input and the limited time window Ior developing the home sign
(I assume that sooner or later all these children end up getting exposed to some
conventional language or other). Goldin-Meadow and Mylander do point out that the
maximal length oI utterance (as opposed to the mean) Ior most oI her subiects was
between Iive and nine signs. which is not signiIicantly less than that oI children with
conventional input. They have also argued in detail that every child`s home sign is
recursive. allowing one proposition to be embedded inside another (Susan Goldin-
Meadow. 1982. 1987). Indeed these embedding structures appear in home signs at about
the same age (2.3 years) that they appear in the productions oI hearing children. So this
language use does count as unbounded. So even these children. with very limited outside
input. develop the CALU capacity more or less on schedule. Moreover. Goldin-Meadow
and Mylander compared her children`s use oI home sign with that oI their mothers. She
discovered that even though mothers made many individual signs. they were signiIicantly
less likely to combine those signs into structured sentences consisting oI more than one
sign than the children were. Approximately 15° oI mothers` utterances consisted oI
more than one sign. compared to 30° oI children`s utterances. and recursion appears
earlier in the child`s signing than in the mother`s in almost every instance. Thus. there is
no evidence that the children are picking up CALU capacity Irom their mothers; rather it
seems to be emerging spontaneously Irom within them. as one would expect iI the CALU
is innate.
Putting this together with the other arguments in this section. I conclude that one
can probably construct a case Ior the CALU being to a large extent innate in humans that
is as strong or stronger than the Iamiliar case Ior syntax being to a large extent innate.

4. Is the CALU ~narrowly biological¨?

The next question is whether there is evidence that the CALU is biological. OI course.
the answer depends on how one understands the terms. II biology is simply the study oI
liIe. then given that the CALU is a property oI some things that are alive (humans.
anyway) it is tautological that the CALU is a biological phenomenon. But in discussing
this question I am interested in biology in a narrower sense: does the CALU Iit
comIortably in the Iramework oI contemporary biology. such that it shows similar
properties to things known to be biological and some oI its properties are elucidated by
the basic theories in biology. More speciIically. is there evidence that the CALU is
embodied neurologically. that the relevant neural structures are coded Ior in genome. and
that these genes arose through evolutionary mechanisms. II the answers to these
questions are yes. then the 'new synthesis¨ paradigm oI evolutionary psychology may be
adequate Ior all instances oI innateness. But I will claim that the answer is no. and hence
that there may be a distinct category oI nonbiological innateness. Again it will be useIul
in some cases to compare the CALU with syntax. which has been more studied.
I begin with neurology. which is the Iirst and most concrete oI these levels. and
probably the best understood. It is common-place to assert. at least in popular
presentations. that by now we know that everything one can imagine the mind doing is
directly dependent on the brain. For example. Steve Pinker writes (Pinker. 2002) p. 41:

One can say that the inIormation-processing activity oI the brain !"#$%$ the mind. or
one can say that it &$ the mind. but in either case the evidence is overwhelming that
every aspect oI our mental lives depends entirely on physiological events in the
tissues oI the brain.

This is a very strong claim. stated with immodest words with universal Iorce
('overwhelming¨. 'every aspect¨. 'depends entirely¨). It has been tested with respect to
the grammar and the vocabulary in many works. We can then consider the CALU in this
light. seeing iI there is overwhelming evidence is that this particular aspect oI our mental
lives depends entirely on physiological events in the tissues oI the brain.
First. let us clariIy what we are looking Ior. There is no doubt that the CALU
capacity is dependent on the brain in the trivial sense that a person without a Iunctioning
brain will not be able to maniIest that ability. That by itselI need not be any more
signiIicant than the Iact that a person without a tongue and with paralyzed arms may also
not be able to maniIest the ability. Ior obvious reasons. The more interesting and less
obvious issue is whether there are particular neural circuits that serve this particular
Iunction. such that having those circuits intact is both necessary and suIIicient Ior having
the CALU capacity. Such circuits have been Iound Ior many other Iunctions in
perception. motor control. and language (to name a Iew). The question I`ll consider then
is whether there is evidence Ior the CALU oI this sort.
The oldest and perhaps the best line oI research here is the study oI aphasiathe
eIIect oI damage to the brain on language. This is Iairly well-trod ground. with a history
that goes back more than 140 years to Paul Broca`s work in the 1860`s (Caplan. 1987;
Goodglass & Kaplan. 1972; Kertesz. 1979). The topic also receives new attention and
Iunding aIter each maior war. Clinicians have developed a relatively stable typology oI
7-10 aphasic syndromes over this long history. This classiIication has its origins in a
paper by Lichtheim in (1885). which set Iorth a proposal Ior a complete enumeration oI
all aphasic syndromes. Geschwind (1964) revived Lichtheim`s typology. and Benson
and Geschwind (1971). in a maior textbook oI neurology. adopt Lichtheim`s
classiIication. adding only three additional syndromes (which are largely coniunctions oI
the original ones). These authors also show that all oI the important classiIications oI
aphasia since Lichtheim`s diIIer Irom his almost exclusively in nomenclature. not in
substantive descriptions oI syndromes or in how those syndromes relate to areas oI the
brain. It still Iorms the basis oI the most popular clinical classiIication oI aphasias in
North America (Caplan. 1987) p. 55). Controversies exist. but most oI them Iocus on
whether the 7-10 classical syndromes are discrete or whether they can shade into each
other in a continuous Iashion. and whether Iiner-grained diIIerences in the symptoms can
be revealed by closer. more linguistically inIormed scrutiny. But there is remarkably
little disagreement on the general lay oI the land. on what isand is notaIIected by
brain damage. The question. then. is whether any oI these classical syndromes aIIects the
CALU in a diIIerential way. so we are tempted to say that the CALU circuit has been
knocked out while others have been spared.
At Iirst. the answer seems to be yes. The hallmark oI CALU is language use that
is unbounded. stimulus-Iree. and appropriate. Wernicke`s aphasia (the second kind to be
discovered) seems to be characterized by language production that lacks the
appropriateness` Ieature. Here is a sample:

His wiIe saw the wonting to woIin to a house with the umblelor. Then he leIt the
wonding then he too to the womin and to the umbella up stairs. His wiIe carry it
upstairs. Then the house did not go Iaster thern and tell go in the without within pain
where it is whire in the herce in stock. ((Goodglass & Kaplan. 1972) 59)

This speech is clearly unbounded and stimulus Iree. but it is not what we would consider
appropriate. The speech oI this kind oI patient is characterized as Iluent and has normal
intonation and Iree use oI grammatical elements. but it is rambling. disorganized.
needlessly complex. and Iull oI malapropisms. phonological errors. and nonwords. The
impression that we are witnessing a random string oI words (and word-like elements) can
be pretty strong. This could be a population that really does say Colorless green ideas
sleep Iuriously` or any other grab bag oI words that occurs to them.
But Wernicke`s aphasia cannot be iust a disruption oI the CALU capacity. This is
seen Irom the Iact that Wernicke`s patients also have language disruptions that have
nothing to do with the CALU. In particular. they have serious problems understanding
words presented in isolation. Two prominent clinicians write about this syndrome that
'The impairment oI auditory comprehension is evident even at the one-word level. The
patient may repeat the examiner`s words uncomprehendingly. or with paraphrasic
distortions. At severe levels. auditory comprehension may be zero.¨ (Goodglass &
Kaplan. 1972). This deIicit is thus not a problem with putting words together; it is a
problem with the words themselves. Wernicke`s aphasia must be a disruption oI the
vocabulary component oI language and not (iust) a disruption oI the CALU component.
Indeed. the classical understanding oI Wernicke`s aphasia is that the sound-meaning
association involved in words is disrupteda view that Iits well with the Iact that
Wernicke`s aphasia is caused by lesions in the 'association cortex¨. Now given that we
know that the vocabulary is aIIected in Wernicke`s aphasia. considerations oI parsimony
lead us to ask whether this deIicit is enough to explain the characteristic speech
production oI these patients. or whether we must assume that the CALU is aIIected too.
In Iact. the vocabulary deIicit is suIIicient. One can well imagine that Wernicke`s
aphasics have reasonable sentences in mind at some level. but they oIten activate the
wrong pronunciations Ior the meanings that they intend. That by itselI would be
perIectly suIIicient to create the eIIect oI random-seeming strings oI words. And in Iact.
a vague plotline can be discerned underneath Wernicke aphasic speech once one Iactors
out the malapropisms. Here is how a Wernicke`s aphasic describes a picture oI two boys
stealing Irom a cookie iar while their mother is busy washing dishes in an overIlowing
sink:

Well this is . mother is away here working her work out o` here to get her better. but
when she`s looking. the two boys looking in the other part. One their small tile into
her time here. She`s working another time because she`s getting. too. So the two
boys work together an one is sneakin` around here. making his . work an` his
Iurther Iunnas his time he had. He an` the other Iellow were running around the work
here. while mother another time she was doing that without everything wrong here. It
isn`t right. because she`s making a time here oI work time here. letting mother getting
all wet here about something. The kids aren`t right here because they don`t iust say
one here and one herethat`s all right. although the Iellow here is breakin` between
the two oI them. they`re comin` around too. (Goodglass & Kaplan. 1972)

Although it wanders and is Iull oI wrong words. there is a vague sense oI what is going
on here.
6
So this type oI aphasia shows us clearly that aspects oI the vocabulary
component are dependent on brain tissue. but not that the CALU is. Similar remarks hold
Ior the other so-called Iluent aphasias`. especially the rather rare Transcordical Sensory
Aphasia. These patients too produce random. purposeless sounding speech. including
sentences like He looks like he`s up live work . He looks like he`s doing iack oIinarys
. He lying wheatly.` But their deIicit shows up clearly even when they are giving one-
word names to items ((Goodglass & Kaplan. 1972) p. 73).

For a cross: Brazilian clothesbag`
For a thumb: Argentine riIle`
For a metal ashtray: beer-can thing`
For a necktie: toenail . rusty nail`

There is obviously a severe problem with the vocabulary here. and that is suIIicient to
explain all the other problems. (The maior diIIerence between Transcortical sensory
Aphasia and Wernicke`s aphasia is that TSA patients can repeat sentences that they hear
much better than Wernicke`s patients can. This has no bearing on CALU issues. because
CALU is not necessarily involved in the capacity to repeat a sentence word Ior word; that
is not a stimulus Iree` behavior.
7
)
A very diIIerent-seeming possible loss oI the CALU is Iound in Broca`s aphasics.
Here the problem is not with the appropriateness. but rather with the boundedness oI the
linguistic output. In more severe cases. patients speak only one word at a time. Here is a
sample conversation (Goodglass & Kaplan. 1972):

Interviewer: What did you do beIore you went to Vietnam? Patient: Forces
Interviewer: You were in the army? Patient: Special Iorces.
Interviewer: What did you do? Patient: Boom!
Interviewer: I don`t understand. Patient: splosions.

6
It has been suggested that the wandering nature oI Wernicke`s aphasia speech is a side eIIect oI the
patient not understanding his own speech. because oI his severe problems with lexical access. ThereIore.
he cannot eIIectively monitor his own speech. and does not get any Ieedback about when he has
successIully communicated an idea. This makes him prone to repetition and wandering on a theme.
7
Two other syndromes in the Iluent aphasia Iamily are anomia and conduction aphasia. Anomia is another
problem with the lexicon; it is hard to access content words. making the aphasic`s speech Iull oI vague
words like thing`. place`. deictic words. and circumlocutions. Conduction aphaisics have special
diIIiculty in repeating sentences. but their Iree speech and comprehension is not so bad. In both cases. it is
clear that the CALU is intact.
(More questions) Patient: me .. one guy
Interviewer: Were you alone when you were iniured? Patient: Recon. scout
Interviewer: What happened; why are you here? Patient: Speech
Interviewer: What happened? Patient: Mortar

Here is a Broca`s aphasic description oI the cookie theIt picture:

Cookie iar . Iall over . chair . water . empty . ov . ov. (examiner:
overIlow?) Yeah. (Goodglass & Kaplan. 1972) p. 54

One might well think oI this as a deIicit oI the ability to put words together into
sentences. But again. this is not the only problem that a typical Broca`s aphaisic has.
They also have severe articulation problems. the prosody oI their speech is aIIected. and
their speech is slow and eIIortIul. even when they are saying only one word. There are
also syntactic problems (agrammatism). where inIlections are lost and only the most
primitive constructions are used. 'While he |the Broca`s aphasic| may try to Iorm
complete sentences. he has usually lost the ability to evoke syntactic patterns. and even a
sentence repetition task may prove impossible Irom the grammatical point oI view.¨
((Goodglass & Kaplan. 1972) p. 55) So the Broca`s aphasic certainly has problems with
articulation and grammar that do not directly concern the CALU. because they aIIect
even one word utterances and repeated sentences. Are these deIicits enough to explain
their behavior without the CALU itselI being aIIected? Apparently yes: iI saying words
is so eIIortIul and syntax is not automatic. it is plausible to think that Broca`s patients
have complete sentences in mind but these get reduced down to one or two word
utterances because oI the diIIiculty oI producing the sentence. This is consistent with the
Iact that their ability to interpret new sentences is relatively intactan ability that
presumably also draws on the CALU. As a result. their one word responses are
appropriate iI not unbounded. Moreover. they do not seem to be stimulus bound: note
that the patient responds to the very vague question What happened?` with the
statistically unlikely but appropriate in context answer mortar`. Goodglass and Kaplan
also observe that the patient may try to Iorm a sentenceeven though they Iail Ior more
peripheral reasons. So here we see that grammar can be aIIected by brain damage (as
well as articulation). but again there is no clear evidence that the CALU is aIIected.
What would a true CALU aphasia be like? Patients with this aphasia would have
good obiect naming and word recognition. showing that the lexicon is intact. The speech
would be Iluent and Iree Irom grammatical errors. when (say) they are repeating a
sentence or reciting a known piece like a song or the Lord`s Prayer. That would suggest
that the grammar is intact. But the speaker would Iail to put together words
spontaneously into phrases. and/or he would put them together in a seemingly random.
purposeless Iashion. All these symptoms existbut this particular combination oI the
symptoms into a syndrome does not seem to be attested. So perhaps it is not true that
brain damage can disrupt any mental Iunction one can imagine; it does not disrupt the
CALU itselI.
8


8
Transcortical Motor Aphasia (also called Dynamic Aphasia (Maruszewski. 1975) pp. 111-15) has the
combination oI symptoms that is most like the missing proIile. It is grouped with Broca`s aphasia as a
nonIluent Iorm oI aphasia. However. there may not be such obvious problems with articulation. and
This conclusion mirrors a classical view in neurolinguistics. Lichtheim 1885
proposed a model oI the language Iaculty that Ieatured three distinct 'centers¨: motor
(production). auditory (perception). and conceptual (Caplan. 1987). These centers were
connected to each other by neural pathways. and the motor and auditory centers were
connected to the outside world in the obvious way. Lichtheim explained the range oI
known aphasias by proposing that any center or pathway could be disrupted by brain
iniurywith the striking exception oI the 'concept center¨. And. as already mentioned.
the classiIication oI aphasias has emerges Irom this view has stood the test oI time. and is
still the basis oI most clinical diagnosis more than 100 years later. The anomaly that his
system had one crucial ingredient that was not prone to disruption by iniury is treated as a
conceptual Ilaw by subsequent neurologists (such as Caplan)but they have not
discovered the missing syndrome or proposed a way oI rearranging the attested
syndromes so that the gap does not appear. Lichtheim`s 'concept center¨ is that aspect oI
the language Iaculty that is the last step in comprehension. the Iirst step in production.
and (in contrast to perception and articulation) is not involved in simple repetition. Thus
it is plausibly the same Iaculty as what I have been calling the CALU. So the result oI
140¹ years oI neurological research seems to be that there is no real evidence that the
CALU depends on dedicated circuitry in the brain tissue.
9

Now let us turn Irom neurology to genetics: what evidence is there that the CALU
is genetically encoded? Is there a CALU gene. or set oI CALU genes. somewhere in the
human genome? II so. then one might expect to Iind developmental disorders that aIIect
the CALU in a diIIerential waydisorders that might ultimately be traced to genetic
abnormalities. Are there such disorders? The classiIication oI SpeciIic Language
Impairments (SLI) does not have as rich and stable a history as the classiIication oI
aphasias has. but it has been the subiect oI intensive research in the last 20 years or so.
Standard classiIications come Irom Bishop (Bishop. 2004) and Rapin and Allen (Rapin &
Allen. 1983). Bishop (2004) tentatively identiIies Iour types oI SLI: typical SLI. severe
receptive language disorder. developmental verbal dyspraxia. and pragmatic language
impairment. The Iirst three are rather clearly irrelevant to the CALU: typical SLI aIIects
the grammar component (uniquely or along with other Ieatures oI language); severe

repetition oI sentences is quite good. Iree Irom grammatical errors. For some reason. this aphasia is not
discussed in as much depth in my sources. Goodglass and Kaplan (Goodglass & Kaplan. 1972) have only
one short paragraph. and neither they nor Kertesz (Kertesz. 1979) give an illustrative case study. The main
symptom that these patients have. apparently. is a Iailure to initiate speech at all. Maruszewski describes it
thus: 'These patients lack an active attitude and do not initiate speech; they generally complain oI
'emptiness in the head¨ and inability to phrase in words the inIormation they want to express.¨ He cites
Luria`s view that 'This was thought to be a kind oI disorder oI verbal thinking involving the loss oI the
ability to programme a text spontaneously in the mind.¨ This would seem to be a disruption oI the CALU.
iI anything is. However. one probable indication that the CALU is intact but not easy to express is that
these patient`s ability to understand novel sentences is apparently quite good. and the capacity to interpret
novel sentences presumably draws on the CALU too. Also. these patients tend not to initiate even one
word utterances. and such utterances would not require the CALU; this suggests that the problem is one oI
activitating speech. Furthermore. Kertesz (1979) mentions that most patients with Transcortical Motor
Aphasia are capable oI bursts oI (oIten agrammatic) speech at times. and Maruszewski (p. 113) mentions
examples where the patients Iorm very good sentences when they have a certain kinds oI visual props to
help them Iocus. This should not be possible iI the CALU circuit were truly gone.
9
Lichtheim`s own view was that the concept center was spread diIIusely through out the brain. which
means that it is not aIIected by localized lesions. That is. oI course. another legitimate possibility.
receptive language disorder is a problem with auditory processing; developmental verbal
dyspraxia is a problem with articulation or perhaps with more abstract phonological
representation. Children with syndromes oI the Iirst and third types are apparently
capable oI speech that is unbounded. stimulus-Iree and appropriateit is iust
grammatically Ilawed and/or phonologically deviant. The only type oI SLI that might be
relevant. then. is Pragmatic Language Impairment (Rapin and Allen`s Semantic-
Pragmatic Disorder). This is described as Iollows: 'The child with early language delay
goes on to make rapid progress in mastering phonology and grammar and starts to speak
in long and complex sentences. but uses utterances inappropriately. Such children may
oIIer tangential answers to questions. lack coherence in conversation or narrative speech.
and appear overliteral in their comprehension.¨ (Bishop. 2004: 321). Rapin and Allen`s
(1983: 174) description is as Iollows:

In general. the utterances they produce are syntacitically well-Iormed. phonologically
intact. and. on the surIace. 'good language¨. On closer examination. however. one
discovers that the language is oIten not really communicative. That is. there is a
severe impairment in the ability to encode meaning relevant to the conversational
situation. and a striking inability to engage in communicative discourse.
Comprehension oI the connected discourse oI the conversational partner also appears
to be impaired. although short phrases and individual words are comprehended.

This might be seen as a CALU deIicit: their speech is unbounded. stimulus Iree. but not
appropriate. However. it seems like something diIIerent is being meant by appropriate`
here. In characterizing the CALU. Chomsky and Descartes use appropriate` in
opposition to random`: it is the characteristic oI speech that responds to a situation in a
way that is neither deterministic nor probablistic. And children with Pragmatic Language
Impairment are capable oI speech that is appropriate in this sense. What Bishop and
Rapin & Allen seem to be getting at in their descriptions is something more along the
lines oI speech that is on its own wavelength. It might be purposeIul. but the purposes do
not mesh properly with those oI their conversational partners.
10
Rapin and Allen`s
example is instructive in this respect; they report (p. 175):

For example. the question 'where do you go to school?¨ was answered by one oI our
children with 'Tommy goes to my school because I see him in the hall everyday. but
we have diIIerent teachers. and I like arithmetic but Tommy likes reading.¨

The child`s response is inappropriate in that he clearly did not answer the question. But it
is perIectly coherent and meaningIul when taken in its own terms. He may be missing
something about social sensitivity. but he is not missing his CALU in Chomsky`s sense.
Overall. then. while there may (or may not) be evidence in the literature on
developmental disorders Ior a grammar gene` deIects in which produce Typical SLI.
there is no corresponding evidence Ior a CALU gene`.
Finally. consider the prospects Ior explaining the origin oI the CALU in humans
in terms oI evolution. I suppose that iI we do not know how the CALU is embodied in
the neural hardware. nor how it is speciIied in the genetic code. the chances oI

10
Indeed. both sources coniecture that this syndrome is related to autism.
constructing a detailed evolutionary account are slim to none. (OI course it is easy to tell
stories about why having the capacity to Ireely express thought in a way that is
appropriate to but not determined by situations is advantageous to survival and
reproduction. The evolutionary paradigm can be applied to the CALU at that level. But I
take discussions that exist only at that level oI generality to be oI limited interest
indeed. to be almost tautological.) But this gives me my chance to comment on a
notorious issue oI whether apes are capable oI language when they are raised in the right
environment. In order to make progress on this endlessly contentious question. one must
have a clearly agreed-on notion oI what is essential to language. The vagueness and
polysemy oI the word language` has apparently caused much misunderstanding and hurt
Ieelings in this regard. But rather than getting embroiled in this in a wholesale way. I
propose to stay Iocused on the Iactoring oI the language capacity into (at least)
vocabulary. grammar. and the CALU. Can apes acquire a vocabulary? Apparently yes;
apes raised by humans have been shown to master a number oI arbitrary signs in the
100s. Can apes acquire a grammar? Maybe. This has been taken to be the crucial
question in much oI the literature. Savage-Rumbaugh (Savage-Rumbaugh. 1994) and her
colleagues have argued that the bomono chimpanzee Kanzi can understand
grammatically complex sentences in English. and shows three simple syntactic
regularities in his own productionsincluding systematic ordering oI verb beIore obiect.
as in English. (Their tests do not approach the level oI sophistication oI those that
clinicians use to probe the capacities oI agrammatic aphasics. however.) But Ior my
purposes here. the crucial question is whether apes can acquire the CALU capacity. Here
the answer seems to be an unequivacable no. Even Kanzi. supposedly the most proIicient
oI the apes. had a mean utterance length oI iust over one. Savage-Raugh (Savage-
Rumbaugh. 1994) reports that only about 10° oI his utterances consisted oI more than
one sign. and it was very rare Ior him to use more than two or three signs in one
utterance. This language behavior Ialls short oI the CALU on the unboundedness test.
Kanzi compares unIavorably in this respect even with the home-sign-using children oI
Goldin-Meadow and Mylander. who have a mean utterance length oI 1.25. use multiple
sign sentences 30° oI the time. and have a maximum sentence length oI 5-9 signs.
Savage-Raugh (Savage-Rumbaugh. 1994) goes to some pains to explain that this
boundedness oI output is not Kanzi`s Iault. His vocal tract is not well-conIigured to
speak sentences longer than that. His hands do not have Iine enough control to sign
sentences longer than that. having been toughened by walking on them. His best method
oI communication is pointing to signs printed on a keyboard. But in this modality has an
inherent limitation: once his vocabulary gets large enough to say an interesting range oI
things. it takes too long to Iind the symbols he wants within the unwieldy matrix oI
symbols. So there is a combination oI Iactors that together have the eIIect that it is not
Iair to expect an ape to produce unbounded speech in real time. according to Savage-
Raugh. Maybe so. but this sounds rather like a conspiracy. A simpler and more uniIied
explanation consistent with the Iacts is that the CALU is lacking in the ape. Overall then.
Descartes was correct that there is nothing like the CALU attested in the animal kingdom
apart Irom human kind (see also Chenney and SeyIarth (Cheney & SeyIarth. 1990) on the
scope oI primate communication in the wild). Thus. there is little explanatory advantage
to gain by saying that the CALU developed evolutionarily. by the gradual improvement
in or change in the Iunction oI a preexisting capacity through the mechanism oI natural
selection.
11

So overall we have seen that. like grammar. there is good reason to believe that
the CALU is innate. given its universality in humans and poverty oI stimulus
considerations oI various kinds. However. there is no good evidence Irom aphasia that it
is neurologically embodied. no good evidence Irom developmental disorders that it is
genetically encoded. and no good comparative evidence that it evolved Irom something
that we have in common with closely related primates. The CALU seems to contrast in
this respect with grammar. at least some aspects oI which do seem to be aIIected in well
established neurological syndromes. in a particular developmental disorder. and which
has been exhibited (it is claimed) by at least one ape. So there is reason to think that
there is a type oI innateness that is not narrowly biological.

!"#$%&'()*)+%,-#*./(0)+%,-#*,/#)12#$345#

Having compared normal human language capacities to those oI damaged humans.
children. and apes. we can also compare them with the language capacities oI man-made
computational devices. This is relevant because cognitive theories are computational
theories. more or less by deIinition. And we have a pretty good idea oI how the brain can
do computations. So thereIore. it seems plausible that anything that can be speciIied
computationally could Iit into a narrowly biological paradigm. at least in principle. We
know that computers can do a lot given enough computational resources (time. memory.
CPU). and we know that the brain has lots oI resources. given the huge complexity oI its
neurons and their various interconnections. So thereIore it might seem that there is
nothing mental that could not be understood within the biological paradigm. In contrast.
iI we learn that the CALU cannot be modeled computationally. Ior good reasons. that it is
perhaps not so surprising that it also cannot be explained by the usual tools oI biology.
Our conIidence that the computational theory oI mind can be a complete theory oI
mind could be another instance oI the blindness that comes Irom understanding
everything along one dimension making one Iorget that there is another dimension to
consider. Fodor (Fodor. 2000) makes this case in some detail. arguing that computational
psychology has seriously overstated its successes. In particular. he presses the point that
the computational paradigm has no account Ior the phenomenon oI abductive
reasoningi.e.. inIerence to the best overall explanation. when there is no way oI

11
Ape language researchers oIten chaIe at what they see as a double standard. Why am I so ready to
attribute CALU to the 1.75 year old child and the Broca`s aphasic and so slow to attribute it to the ape.
when their linguistic outputs are similar. at least at inasmuch as they consist mostly oI one word utterances
and never more than two or three words. I can understand why they Ieel that way. But considerations oI
parsimony cut diIIerent ways in the diIIerent cases. The Broca`s aphasic clearly had the CALU beIore his
stroke. so the question is whether he still has it. Parsimony leads one to Iavor a yes answer iI other known
diIIiculties are enough to explain the behavior observed. The young child clearly will have the CALU in
another six months. so the question is does she already have it. Parsimony can lead one to Iavor a yes
answer. iI other known developmental changes are enough to explain the change in behavior. But the ape
never maniIests the CALU. So here parsimony leads one to Iavor the no answer. since there is no evidence
to the contrary. AIter all. the CALU is a very special capacity that only a tiny percentage oI things in the
world have; surely a heavy burden oI prooI Ialls on someone who claims that a new kind oI thing has this
capacity.

knowing in advance what Iacts will be relevant. He points out that the transIormations
that a computer can do on an inputwhat we call 'inIormation processing¨must only
depend on the syntactic properties oI that input. on how it is put together. It cannot
depend on the semantic properties oI the input. such as what the various symbols reIer to.
This is not some accidental limitation stemming Irom how computer scientists happen to
write programs; rather. it is embedded in Turing`s deIinition oI what computation is.
Thus. computers are wonderIul at reasoning deductively (when well-programmed); they
can tell what conclusions Iollow because oI the Iorm oI the premises better than humans
can. But they cannot reason abductively. telling us what conclusions Iollow because oI
the content oI the premises. So whereas the theory oI computation can give us a
wonderIul account oI one type oI rationality in terms oI nonrational. physical processes.
it cannot give us an account oI another type. almost by deIinition. So Fodor identiIies the
question oI how is abduction possible as the great mystery that hovers over cognitive
science.
One obvious way to respond to Fodor`s argument is to deny that the human mind
really does work abductively. Perhaps we only have the illusion that we reason
abductively. whereas the truth oI the matter is we are reasoning in a deterministic and
modular way. Fodor`s primary example oI abductive reasoning is scientiIic theory
construction. which he takes to be a somewhat puriIied and ampliIied version oI how our
minds normally work. But his critics can respond that the striking thing about scientiIic
theory construction is that human beings are not. by nature. very good at it. Only the
most intelligent people do it. and even they make many mistakes that need to be corrected
by communities oI peers over historical time. ThereIore. the development oI science is
dubious as an illustration oI how human cognition normally works (see. Ior example
Sperber (Sperber. to appear) note 7).
Here the Iactoring oI the language capacity into vocabulary. grammar. and the
CALU is relevant again. Grammar (syntax) can be handled by classical computational
architectures; that is no surprise. since computation runs on syntax. But the CALU
capacity is an abductive process par excellence. I think there is every reason to believe
that non-modular. non-syntactic inIerence to the best explanation is rampant in our every
day. ordinary ability to construct and interpret new sentences that are appropriate. That is
how we compensate Ior the vagueness. ambiguity. and indeterminacy that natural
language is Iull oI. usually without even knowing it. I will walk through a simple
example that concerns the interpretation oI pronouns in discourse. Consider the
Iollowing sentences:

(1)!John wasn`t Ieeling well. so he went to his doctor yesterday.
(2)!He examined him Ior an hour. but could Iind nothing seriously wrong.

Probably you understood the he` in sentence (2) as reIerring to the doctor mentioned in
(1). and him` as reIerring to John. On what does this interpretation depend? Certainly it
does not depend iust on the syntax oI (1) and (2). (3) has the same syntax as (2). but now
he` is naturally interpreted as John and him` as the doctor.

(3) He questioned him Ior an hour about what his symptoms could mean (but wasn`t
satisIied by the answers).

So at least the interpretation depends on the lexical semantics oI the verb in the second
sentence. as well as the syntax oI the two verbs. Now the meaning oI the Iirst verb turns
out to be relevant too. So consider:

(4)!John wasn`t Ieeling well. so his doctor saw him on short notice.
(5)!He examined him Ior an hour. but could Iind nothing seriously wrong.

In (5) (which is identical to (2)). he` reIers to the subiect oI (4) (the doctor) and him`
reIers to the obiect oI (4) (John). Syntactically speaking. this is the opposite oI (2). where
he` reIers to the obiect oI (1) and him` reIers to the subiect. At this point. one might
think that the lexical semantics oI the verbs is the key to the story. but other examples
show that syntax plays a role too. For example. (2) cannot have the so-called reIlexive
interpretations in which the doctor examines the doctor Ior an hour or in which John
examines John. However. (7). which has a diIIerent Iorm oI the obiect pronoun. may and
must have one oI these interpretations:

(6)!John wasn`t Ieeling well. so he went to his doctor yesterday.
(7)!He examined himselI Ior an hour..

Another minor change in the syntax in (9) and (10). and now the pronouns he` and his`
can (but need not) reIer to the same person. either John or the doctor. (9) is biased
toward the reIerent being John; (10) toward the reIerent being the doctor.

(8)!John wasn`t Ieeling well. so he went to his doctor yesterday.
(9)!He examined his inIected toenail Ior an hour (while sitting in the waiting room).
(10) He examined his charts Ior an hour (beIore entering the exam room).

Finally. consider (11) and (12). These are identical to (1) and (2). except that the
Ieminine pronoun her` is used instead oI the masculine pronoun him`.

(11)! John wasn`t Ieeling well. so he went to his doctor yesterday.
(12)! He examined her Ior an hour. but could Iind nothing seriously wrong.

Now the competent speaker is inclined to interpret the subiect pronoun he` as reIerring
to John. not to the doctor as in (2). The reason is as Iollows: Her` must reIer to
someone that the speaker thinks I know about. All I know about is John and his doctor.
John certainly reIers to a male (conIirmed by the use oI he` to reIer to John internal to
(11)). Doctors can be Iemale iust as well as male. so her` must reIer to the doctor.
ThereIore. he` cannot reIer to the doctor in this case (even though doctors usually do the
examining). John is the only other one I know about. so he` must reIer to John. This is
a complex chain oI reasoning. based on both syntactic elements and real world
knowledgee.g. the Iact that doctors can be women but people named John never are.
I think it is clear that there is abductive reasoning (inIerence to the best overall
explanation) going on to make sense oI these perIectly ordinary examples. Clearly. the
conclusions do not iust rest on the syntax. One could imagine enriching the syntax in
various ways. For example. one might model the diIIerence between (2) and (3) by
saying that the verb examine` is automatically replaced by one kind oI syntactic
structure in the course oI processing. and the verb question` is replaced by another kind.
Then there would be hope oI running the pronoun interpretation oII oI the enriched
syntax in a deterministic way. (Linguists have experimented with such 'lexical
decomposition¨ theories in the past. but they are now popular only in a limited domain
and certainly they are not used to explain the interpretation oI pronouns.) So some
Iactors that don`t look modular and syntactic on the Iace oI it could be turned into Iactors
that are syntactic. That would be tempting iI the properties oI the verb were the only
nonsyntactic matter that pronoun interpretation depended on. But it deIinitely is not: the
interpretation also depends on the meaning oI the verb in the Iirst sentence. on the kinds
oI adverbial modiIiers that are includedand even on our knowledge oI our culture`s
naming practices and which proIessions are practiced by women. Indeed. it seems that
almost anything we know can inIluence how we interpret pronouns. All oI this is Irom
the point oI view oI the language perceiver. but the same considerations apply to the
language producer. who constructs sentences like (1)-(12) in ways that depend on what
he (tacitly) thinks the hearer will be manage to understand abductively. (OI course. this
won`t always work perIectly; there will be occasional miscommunications. But they are
relatively rare. and don`t detract Irom the overall nature oI what is going on.) So there is
good reason to think that abduction is alive and well in the human mind. and one oI its
names is the CALU.
12

Now I Iind a very interesting convergence here. Look at the state oI the art in
language processing by computers. There is no problem giving computers a vocabulary.
Giving them grammatical knowledge is harder. but not impossible; systems exist that can
parse naturally occurring sentences to a reasonable degree oI accuracy. and we have
Iallible but not (quite) useless grammar checkers on our computers. But computers are
still spectacular Iailures at spontaneously producing coherent speech and at interpreting
such speech outside oI very limited domains. Turing`s (Turing. 1950) Iamous test is yet
to be passed by a machine. well aIter the 50 years he predicted. Indeed. the CALU part
oI language is clearly the locus oI the most striking Iailure. Thus Shieber (Shieber. 1994)
observes in connection with recent attempts to run something like the Turning Test in
connection with the Loebner prize. that the programs that people are willing to rate as
most human-like` to date succeed almost entirely because they Iind ways to avoid the
expectation that conversation should be appropriate in the CALU sense.
13
The semi-
successIul programs choose to pose as a psychoanalyst. or as a paranoid schizophrenic. or

12
Sperber (Sperber. to appear) also holds that (something like) abductive reasoning does happen in the
human mind.. Nor does he deny Fodor`s argument that abductive reasoning cannot be explained
computationally. However. he holds out the hope that the brain does abduction through noncomputational
processes. suggesting that the many diIIerent subprocessors in the brain compete Ior energy resources
depending on how active they are. how many inIerences they are generating. and so on. Sperber gives a
sense oI how this could be by developing an analogy with muscle Iatigue. But even iI this process is not
computational in the sense oI inIormation processing deIined over an explicit representational data
structure. I don`t see how it avoids Fodor`s argument. Certainly Iinding the maximum number Irom a set.
or all those numbers that are greater than a certain threshold is (or can be modeled by) a computational
processindeed. a trivial one. I can see how an architecture oI the kind Sperber suggests could as dumb or
dumber than a classical computational system. but I do not see how it could be smarter. permitting true
abductive inIerence.
13
I thank David Williamson Ior pointing this out to me.
as a whimsical conversationalist. or as a seven-year old childall people Ior which we
are willing to suspend to some degree our normal expectations concerning coherent and
rational discourse. The state oI the art in AI is very Iar away Irom systems that can
maniIest the CALU. maybe hopelessly Iar away (see also xxx). This should not be a
surprise by now. The programs Iail at least in part because the CALU is an intrinsically
abductive capacity. and because the abductive cannot be reduced to the computational.
So Iar it seems that Descartes` intuition was more accurate than Turing`s: that producing
speech that is unbounded. not conditioned by stimulus. but appropriate to situations does
go beyond the bounds oI mechanical explanation as we know it. So the CALU is what
we don`t know how to speciIy or implement in computational terms. and it is also the
part oI the human language capacity that seems innate but not narrowly biological based
on neurolinguistic. developmental. and comparative studies.

!"#$%&'("#

In this paper. I have sought to remind people that the CALU is an important aspect oI the
human language Iaculty. I have gone on to argue that the CALU capacity is innate in
humans; indeed analogs oI all the standard arguments that syntax is innate can be Iound
to show that the CALU is also innate. However. the arguments that show that syntax is
embodied in speciIic neural circuits. that it is genetically encoded. and that it evolved
Irom similar capacities that were shared with other primates do not go through. The
claim that the innate structure oI the human mind is (entirely) biological in this sense thus
has little or no evidence in its Iavor. and adds nothing to our substantive understanding oI
the CALU. I conclude that there is reason to entertain a type oI nativism that subscribes
to the existence oI innateness but that does not try to cash out that innateness as biology
in the manner characteristic oI evolutionary psychology.


)*+*,*#$*'-

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The innate mind. structure and content.
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