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#66746 04/21/02 07:08 PM
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In Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, the author, Matt Ridley, refers to Steven Pinker in a chapter on Instinct. He talks about how syntax and general speech rules are instinctive, but vocabulary must be learned. (I'm still confused about how syntax etc. can be instinctual when they're different in all languages, but that's another matter.)

In a chapter on memory he goes on to say that "perhaps even literacy would become innate eventually if illiterate people were at a reproductive disadvantage for long enough." This is mentioned in relation to the fact that the development of dairy farming aided the evolution of lactose tolerance.

What think you?


#66747 04/21/02 07:26 PM
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Syntax and general speech rules are instinctive, but vocabulary must be learned? Aren't syntax and general speech rules also learned? I've heard of the survival instinct, but never of the syntax and general speech rules instinct.
Also, when he says "perhaps even literacy would become innate eventually if illiterate people were at a reproductive disadvantage for long enough.", it sounds like some sort of Darwinesque literary natural selection at work. Bizarre!
Mr. Ridley has a very interesting viewpoint, to say the least.


#66748 04/21/02 07:28 PM
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Dear JazzO: Hard to see how illiterate people could be sufficiently disadvantaged to affect their continuing to reproduce. After all, our ancestors were illiterate for millions of years.


#66749 04/21/02 07:34 PM
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#66750 04/21/02 07:41 PM
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well, dyslexia, and Attention Deficet Disorder. (and the other term, i forget ADHD?) have sprung on the screen, as it were. New modern disorders.. why?

perhaps because, years ago, people like my father, who also has dyslexia, and had trouble in school, were shunted off, as he was, to a trade school.. he wasn't expected to read, so his difficultly reading didn't really matter much.

he became a butcher, got a job with his skill, a skill that required very little reading, and was able to support a family.

An article in today NYTimes points out, a clerical job, nowdays requires a college degree.

In the new technologic marketplace, where information is a commodity, a lack of literacy is a handicap. might that result in illiterate people being unable to support and raise a family? might a man like my father in some future world be unable to keep a job?

possible. but one of Nelson Rockafeller's son's had dyslexia.. but rockefellers money bought him tutors, and readers, and he did fine.

also, since dyslexia is perception problem, smart dyslexics can often learn skills to compensate.. and then can learn to use tools to overcome there handicaps.

my spelling is bad here, (i don't even try aenegma any more) but with a good word processor, i can turn out fine documents.

technology today allows the blind to "read"-- with scanner/readers, the lame, or physically handcapped to to type.. the dyslexics to spell, and edit!

You might know regular contibuters.. but do you ever think of how, they too might be using some of this technology? what evidence do we have? none! all you see are my thoughts, with out seeing my body.. Have i lost a hand or arm to an industrial accident? am i crippled with a childhood disease, or one of old age? how would you know? Unless i told you, all you would see are print outs of my thoughts.. do i speak into a microphone to make words appear? do i have software that scan and reads a page out loud to me? and if i did? would it matter? do really care how i get my ideas into a format you can use? or reformat to meet your needs?

In 1950, doctors encouraged parents of downs syndrom children to abandom them, and consoled them, the children with downs syndrom never lived beyond the age of 2 or 3.

and abandon to an understaffed orphanages, with no antibotics, and little affection, its true, they "failed to thrive" and died young.

but raise in a loving home with caring parents.. down syndrome children live to twenties and thirties..

We value human life too much. Tools that help everyone, often help the handicapped more than we expect.
will illitercy fall away, like lactose intolerance? i don't think so. maybe some, but some cognative learning disorders, like dyslexia will be with us for a long time.


#66751 04/22/02 01:55 AM
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To venture a guess on the "syntax instinct", I'd say he meant for each language. That is, for ex., babies born in English-speaking homes "know" that 'the red book' is correct, and babies born in homes of languages where the adjective follows the noun know that 'the book red' is correct. Infants can understand speech long before they can create it. Even when they're at the "want ba-ba" stage, they know not to say "ba-ba want".

I am not clear on what is meant by innate literacy. That sounds like he meant babies instinctively know that certain shapes on a page stand for certain sounds--and I simply cannot believe that could happen. Even a simple picture story requires a certain level of development, for comprehension. Let's say there are four flash cards: one shows a boy sitting up in bed, yawning; one shows him standing beside the bed; one shows him unmistakably getting dressed, and the last shows him walking outside with his ball. It would take, I believe, an advanced two-, and more likely, a three-year-old, to be able to put those cards in the correct order--up to a certain point, the mental capacity is simply too undeveloped. And for me to think that a 12-month-old who knows his own name when it's spoken could also look at an A and know that it's an A, would be well-nigh impossible.


#66752 04/22/02 03:09 AM
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Mr. Ridley has a very interesting viewpoint, to say the least. - talltales

Hey Talltale, let's advance beyond the "least"and say unabashedly that Mr. Ridley is full of...(Oh heck I can't say it either)...interesting viewpoints.



#66753 04/22/02 09:07 AM
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And how about the chappie - Skinner, I think it is - who reckons that everyone is born with a blank sheet for a mind, on which experience writes the story.
He also believes that until a baby has acquired language knowledge, it is unable to think.

If he is right (not that I am at all certain that he is), or even right about the first bit, then Ridley's theory is impossible


#66754 04/22/02 10:02 AM
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It would take, I believe, an advanced two-, and more likely, a three-year-old, to be able to put those cards in the correct order

Jackie, you are absolutely right. My wife runs a preschool and even she is astonished at how difficult it is to get three year olds to recognise this kind of sequencing. An interesting point is that the powers that be (they who set "desirable learning outcomes") place sequencing under mathematics along with bigger, smaller, in front, behind etc. I guess I understand that now, having had some time to get used to the idea, but it puzzled me at first. Your illustration of babies use of syntax - I hadnít noticed that, they do get it right donít they, but it still seems to be learned behaviour, not some kind of genetic inheritance

Looking at the Darwinesque(?) aspect and just thinking aloud, children have a strong innate drive to communicate and we are told that females, because of the left brain, right brain thing, are naturally better at some types of communication (maybe all types?) than are males My personal experience supports that, which leads me to accept that a natural variation exists at a basic level. (Trying hard not to be provocative here and recognising that these are extreme generalisations and sensitive areas!). So if one were to accept that, connected in some way with X and Y chromosomes, there is in-built variation in the natural ability to communicate then, since variation carries with it the potential for improvement, it should be possible for that ability to improve. Improve to the degree suggested by Mr Ridley? I don't believe so. If, as he postulates, literacy became the prime measure of sexual attraction, with consequent impact on successful reproduction for the literate, surely the result would be to strengthen that natural ability to communicate so that improved literacy came along as a spin off. I don't think the ability to communicate better necessarily indicates an increased IQ (look at some of our politicians) which might lead to children regularly learning to read at eighteen months. But even if it did, wouldnít that still be learned behaviour, not innate?

dxb



#66755 04/22/02 11:37 AM
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Mr. Ridley has a very interesting viewpoint, to say the least. - talltales

Hey Talltale, let's advance beyond the "least"and say unabashedly that Mr. Ridley is full of...(Oh heck I can't say it either)...interesting viewpoints.


I suspect we are misunderstanding Mr. Ridley's viewpoint. If indeed we're understanding it correctly, I'd agree that we are assessing it correctly.

Durn you, milum! Now I have two more books to read: Ridley, and the Pinker he refers to. Where am I going to find all that time?


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