Language FacultyLanguage faculty is our biological ability to use language. Human beings are the only creatures on earth that use language, and many linguists and others have concluded that we must therefore have some kind of specific biological endowment for language, one which is totally absent, or nearly so, from all other living species: our language faculty.
To be sure, this conclusion has been challenged from two directons. On the one hand, some experiments have attempted to teach other species, usually apes, to use some simplified version of a human language (most often a version of a sign language) and, in spite of serious problem with their methodology and interpretations, a few observers are now prepared to accept that these creatures do indeed exhibit a (severely limited) capacity for using language - though critics of this conclusion are numerous and vigorous. On the other hand, psychologists like Jean Piaget and Jerome Bruner have argued that our language faculty, while admittedly real, is not at all an individual and distinctive part of our biological inheritance, but merely one more manifestation of our general all-purpose cognitive abilities.
Nevertheless, the majority view among linguists at present is that our language faculty is real, that it is at least largely distinct from all of our other cognitive abilities and that it must be the biological result of some kind of dictinctive evolution within the brains of our ancestors. This is the belief that underlines a number of celebrated attempts at giving an account of our language-using abilities, including the generic hypothesis of language, Chomsky's innateness hypothesis, Bickerton's bioprogram hypothesis, and even the search for universal grammar.
A constant theme of these investigations is the issue of modularity. Chomsky and others have long argued that our language faculty must consist of a number of specialized and largely independent subcomponents which interact in specific ways to produce and overall linguistic behaviour. More recently, however, some people have begun to question whether our language faculty as a whole should itself be regarded as a distinctive part of our mental equipment. They suggest instead that various aspects of language use may have entirely separate evolutionary origins, and that what we call our language faculty is probably an epiphenomenon; that is, a purely superficial unity which in fact results from the interaction of diverse structure and processes within our brains, many of which are in no way confined to language behaviour. This debates will doubltless continue for some time.
The study of all the biological aspects of our language faculty is sometimes called biolinguistics.
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