LINGUIST List 6.44

Mon 16 Jan 1995

Misc: Animals and Who, Kant and Innateness

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Frances Ingemann, animals and who
  2. David Powers, Re: 6.19 Kant and Innateness

Message 1: animals and who

Date: Mon, 09 Jan 95 14:57:42 CSanimals and who
From: Frances Ingemann <FING%UKANVMUICVM.UIC.EDU>
Subject: animals and who

An additional piece of data to add to the discussion on the use of
who for animals. When I took my dog to board in a kennel during the
holidays, I was asked by the kennel operator, "Who do we have here?"

Frances Ingemann
University of Kansas
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Message 2: Re: 6.19 Kant and Innateness

Date: Fri, 13 Jan 1995 17:07:09 Re: 6.19 Kant and Innateness
From: David Powers <>
Subject: Re: 6.19 Kant and Innateness

) Date: Thu, 22 Dec 1994 08:21:20 -0500 (EST)
) From: (> Don Churma
) Re Alan Huffmann's posting on "Kant and Innateness": If Kant did say
) "something to the effect that `Anyone who posits innateness as a scientific
) explanation is guilty of laziness of the mind'", then it appears to me that
) "he was certainly" NOT "on the button", at least if I understand
) "laziness of the mind" correctly. If X happens because Y is innate,
) then this is a perfectly valid explanation for X's occurrence; if X
) happens for some other reason, then it's not valid. The hard work will
) be determining whether Y is IN FACT innate, and anyone who assumes it is
) OR IT ISN'T is guilty of arational behavior (simply failing to use reason at
) all), i.e. (?) "laziness of the mind".

I missed Alan's posting. But I would think that the point is that "innateness"
amounts to saying "because its a fact of life". The whole point of science is
to explain the phenomena we observe, and saying that "we are born with it" is
not an explanation. As you say, it may or may not be a fact, but that is not
the point. Even given the validity of the claim, the fact begs an explanation.

In the case of our language capability, it is clearly innate. In the case of
English (grammar, morphology, lexicon and semantics), it is not innate per se.
It is valid to posit certain mechanisms or universals as innate, and proceed to
show that they suffice to explain the acquisition of precisely the range of
languages which (a) have naturally developed & (b) are capable of being learnt.

This position (positing) amounts to a hypothesis about lower level laws or
mechansism or universals. But the science comes when we show (a) the
sufficiency; (b) the necessity & (c) the source of the posited constructs.
UG is concentrating on (a) and there is a tendency to deprecate those who
are more interested in (b) or (c) - which go beyond the bound set by innateness.

Linguistics has a tendency to stop at being descriptive. Science always goes
further than mere description. Describing the commonality present across the
full range of human language, in a neat, parsimonious way, is but a first step;
for science demands explanations: why does language have the form it does?
where do these universals come from? why do we have this range of parameter
settings? what relationship does language have to thought? consciousness?


Assoc. Prof. David Powers (SIGART Editor; SIGNLL Chair)
Department of Computer Science UniOffice: +61-8-201-3663
The Flinders University of South Australia Secretary: +61-8-201-2662
GPO Box 2100, Adelaide South Australia 5001 Facsimile: +61-8-201-3626
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