Resources for Communication Problems

Thursday, January 31, 2008



Summary in Chinese missing?


(3) Miscellaneous Evidence

There are some further tantalizing indications for a direct and profound dependence of language capacity on genetic constitution. Unfortunately, the evidence is still too scanty to base any elaborate theory upon it. Let us merely refer to these matters for the sake of completion and in the hope that further research will clarify these points. First, there is a report from Moorhead, Mellman, and Wenar (1961) on a chromosome study in a family in which a mother and four of her five children had low intelligence and disproportionately poor speech. The father and a fifth child have normal behavior. The behaviorally aberrant individuals also had a chromosome abnormality which was absent from the karyotype of the normal members of the family. The interpretation of these findings will have to wait further discoveries of speech defects associated with the same chromosomal defect.

Second, there is an inherited error of metabolism producing a disease called histidinemia which particularly affects the development of speech. The few cases that have been described in the medical literature (Auerbach et al., 1962; La Du et al ., 1963) do not yet allow any safe inferences about the significance of this association between behavior and metabolic discovers. If the association should eventually be shown to be statistically interesting, it will lay the foundation for some further and perhaps very revealing research into the development history of the capacity for language. For the time being it may be wiser to reserve judgment.

(4) The Darlington-Brosnahan Hypothesis

Darlington(1947) proposed that the sound complement of a natural language is an expression of its speakers’ vocal preference which, in turn, is control by genes. He suggested that there might be slight structural differences in the vocal tract of a living language is ultimately due to the speakers’ desire to minimize their vocal efforts. Brosnahan (1961) enlarged on the original suggestion and collected a great deal of material which, he believed, supported Darlington’s hypothesis. Perhaps the most impressive support is derived from the geographic distribution of certain sounds, especially, the intradental spirant /th/ in Europe languages. Today this sound is confined to peripheral countries of Europe (Scandinavian countries, British Isles, Iberic peninsula and the Balkan). Thus, it is found among three unrelated language families: Finno-Ugric, Indo-European, and Basque; but historically it covered most of central Europe. The authors of the hypothesis believe that the /th/ is disappearing in Europe through gradual anatomical changes in the vocal tract of speakers in the central European area and that this change is due to genes which are slowly diffusing through the mating groups in an East-to-West direction. Brosnahan has made an admirable effort to defend this hypothesis against a number objections but I believe it is fair to say that the hypothesis still lacks cogency. The anatomical evidence for European spears is not sufficient (Roberts, 1962) and is totally lacking for speakers of other continents where speech sound also diffuse geographically and regardless of language-family boundaries. Nor is it possible to demonstrate that minimization of effort is indeed responsible for sound shift (Lenneberg, 1962). Arguments based upon principles of least effort are always dangerous.


There were days when learned treatises on the origin of language were based on nothing more than imagination. The absence of ascertainable facts rendered these essays disreputable early during the rise of empirical sciences. For sometime the topic become taboo in respectable scientific circles. But recently it seems to have acquired new probity by adumbration of the speculations with empirical data. Let us test the soundness of the various type of arguments by examining the corroborative evidence in terms of relevance to problem of the phylogenetic history of language.

Summary in Chinese missing?



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