Attention Steven Pinker: Look out for Creationists
PZ Myers just posted an interesting little story:
If you’ve ever been curious about the intelligent design of language, here’s a new one for you: Edenics.
Here you will discover that ALL human words contain forms of the Edenic roots within them. These proto-Semitic or early Biblical Hebrew words were programmed into our common ancestors, Adam and Eve, before the language dispersion, or babble at the Tower of Babel — which kickstarted multi-national human history.
Oh, joy. They’re after all of our sciences.
In his book, The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker has a chapter entitled The Tower of Babel, in which he discusses linguistic diversity and the mutual unintelligibility of different languages despite their structural similarities. To introduce this topic, Pinker opened the chapter with a brief discussion of the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. I bet he never expected that his cultural competitors, the Creationists, would become his scientific theoretical opposition. When reading through this chapter introduction a few years ago I remember just kind of reading along, not really thinking much of it. How astonished I would have been had I known that there are people who actually take the story literally!
This story draws to mind a few personal connections. Toward the end of my undergrad at the University of Toronto I became very interested in language acquisition as a direct consequence of reading and writing on The Language Instinct. While I later came to adopt a different perspective on language acquisition than Pinker presented in his 1994 book—in Pinker’s defense, a lot of important research had been done in the 10 years after his book came out—I credit him for turning my general fascination with how infants acquire language from a simple fascination to wonderful intellectual adventure. This story brought to mind my first foray into the amazing world of the cognitive science of language acquisition.
The second thing brought to mind by this story was an incident that occurred to me in Boston. I had just arrived in the city, having traveled from Rutgers University in New Jersey where I was a Cognitive Psychology graduate student studying language and social cognitive development, for the Boston University Conference on Language Development. So I was on the bus and a woman asked me for directions. Upon telling her that I’m from out of town and so couldn’t be of much help, she asked me what I was in town for. When I told her that I was attending a conference on language development she recommended that I consult the Bible as it gives a historical account on the origin of language. Yeah. I’ll get right on it, right after I finish reading Genesis to brush up on my biology.
As soberingly ridiculous as this story is, it was nice to be reminded of pleasant memories of my first plunge into the world of the rational study of language acquisition and a very enjoyable trip to the beautiful city of Boston for a very enjoyable conference. Thanks, Biblical literalism!