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universalgrammar

'universalgrammar'
Universal GrammarCharles HenryRice UniversityHouston, TexasInternet: chhenry@rice.edu In: Communication and Cognition - Artificial Intelligence, Vol. 12, Nos. 1-2, pp. 45-61, Special Issue Self-Reference in Biological and Cognitive Systems, Luis Rocha (ed.)Abstract One aspect of the study of natural language is the quest for a universal grammar, a system that would explain conclusively the way all languages are organized and function. This is in part a search for an underlying principle of organization. This paper contends that a universal grammar is not to be found by the usual method of studying words, abstracting categories of words, and overlaying a structure based on those categories. We should discard this approach altogether and adopt a different technique that emphasizes the biology of language: language as a product of the brain. Grammar, and generally the organizing principles of language, can be seen as sharing biological rules of constraint and are subject to evolutionary principles. Further, language may itself be an expression of similar rules that inform the material processes of evolution; one thus may be able to understand information transfer in living organisms (genotype to phenotype, synaptic chemical communication) by an analysis of natural language.     That language functions reside in the brain is a truism. Early studies of brain damaged patients led to the belief in isolation of brain areas for specific linguistic functions (Broca, Warnke), an approach popularized by Wilder Penfield's experiments of exciting brain areas of patients who would then recall often vividly a particular past event. This gave rise to theories which posited that memories resided in toto in brain cells, the brain a kind of quiescent repository of discrete events neatly compartmentalized. Yet recent technologies such as positron emission tomography have distinguished only very general language areas (Damasio and Damasio), and a more broadly based interaction of different brain domains in response to verbal stimuli.     Penfield's patients, it is now believed, actually confabulated their earlier 'memories,' creating stories engendered by a cascading of associations brought on by the electrode in their brain. All attempts to discover a one-to-one correspondence of brain cells with specific memories have failed, and associated theories of a strict hierarchy of mental functionality have similarly faded. Similarly, the proposition of sharply delineated properties between the left and right brain, while seemingly correctly positing some differentiation between the hemispheres, is now viewed as overly schematized and, like strict localization hypotheses, belies a great diffusiveness of brain activity.     Arguments for more diffuse brain functionality span philosophy, cognitive science, and molecular biology. Encapsulating these is something like Dennet's remarks of consciousness itself: the clear-cut, Aristotelian, Cartesian boundari
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