Muscling in on the mind

April 21, 1995

Hunt for language gene" (THES, April 7) made depressing reading and I hope that the geneticists referred to will have second thoughts before spending their careers on this search.

They could look first at the 25 years' work of the linguistic school of thought that, in the Chomskyan tradition, believes that the structures of language prove them to be biologically innate. They should weigh up whether those writings are useful, then consider the theoretical basis of it for themselves, and read the works of those who judge it misconceived.

With luck, these biologists might correctly decide to proceed with investigating the genetic basis of the human neural physiology that makes human language possible; and have success. If, however, they base their search on the idea that they are looking for some relationship between the structures of the brain and those of language, they will be barking up the same tree as the generative linguists.

Think about football: that, too, is made possible by the structures of human physiology; but would anyone try to account for the moves of a game of football by analysing the muscle-structure of the players?

Michael Bulley

59 Hythe Road

Ashford, Kent

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