As could be expected, the framework established by HCF led to much criticism from proponents of what HCF called hypothesis 2. Thus, in 2005, Pinker and Jackendoff (PJ) responded to HCF by asking:
“The faculty of language: what’s special about it?”The controversy led to further discussion in the same year when Fitch, Hauser and Chomsky (FHC) defended their viewpoint in
“The evolution of the language faculty: Clarifications and implications”and Jackendoff and Pinker renewed their disagreement debating
“The nature of the language faculty and its implications for the evolution of language“.PJ’s first critique mainly focuses on the “recursion-only claim” of HCF, because they feel that there is more that is special to language. Furthermore, they question that recursion evolved as an exaptation (Pinker/Jackendoff 2005: 205). They especially defend the “Speech is Special” (SiS) hypothesis posed by Alvin Liberman and others, which was rejected by HFC (Pinker/Jackendoff 2005: 206), because it seems that the speech perception system and vocal production in humans have been specially adapted for language (Pinker/Jackendoff 2005: 206-209), and not for vocal imitation or size exaggeration as HCF suggested (Pinker/Jackendoff 2005: 209f.). They also assess that
"words, as shared, organized linkages of phonological, conceptual, and grammatical structures, are a distinctive language-specific part of human knowledge” (Pinker/Jackendoff 2005: 215).They also question the usefulness of the FLB/FLN distinction in general and criticize HCF/FHC’s blurring of the difference between homology and analogy. (Jackendoff/Pinker 2005: 214-216) Further, they cite genetic evidence as an argument against the recursion-only claim, namely that the FOXP2-gene, though present for example in mice, chimpanzees, and humans has been positively selected in the human lineage, and is critical for
"articulation, production, comprehension, and judgments in a variety of domains of grammar, together with difficulties in producing sequences of orofacial movements”and not only for recursion (Pinker/Jackendoff 2005: 218).
Finally, they criticize Chomsky’s Minimalist Program (MP) as a rationale of HCF’s research program, which they find problematic because of the massive counterevidence against it. In their opinion, the adaptationist view of language seems much more plausible (Pinker/Jackendoff 2005: 231).
In their reply, FHC emphasize their independence of the MP (Fitch/Hauser/Chomsky 2005: 183), and stress that
"most of the data PJ discuss concern mechanisms that are part of FLB by definition, because related mechanisms exist in other species and/or other cognitive domains”(Fitch/Hauser/Chomsky 2005: 204), which in their view clearly is an adaptation shaped by natural selection (Fitch/Hauser/Chomsky 2005: 189). They further argue that, though welcoming demonstrations
"that other mechanisms should be added to FLN” (Fitch/Hauser/Chomsky 2005: 204),SiS would not present a testable, strong hypothesis and thus could be accepted as given (Fitch/Hauser/Chomsky 2005: 219).
Citing the phoneme discrimination abilities by macaques and other evidence as arguments against SiS (Fitch/Hauser/ Chomsky 2005: 195), they conclude that their
“hypothesis 3 is not only plausible, but that no data refuting it currently exist” (Fitch/Hauser/Chomsky 2005: 205).FHC also introduce the current utility/functional origins dichotomy, on which I elaborated in chapter 3, and argue that
“from an empirical perspective, there are not and probably never will be data capable of discriminating among the many plausible speculations that have been offered about the original function(s) of language.”Thus, Pinker and Jackendoff’s framing of questions about language evolution would be of little scientific value (Fitch/Hauser/Chomsky 2005: 185f.) JP contradict this statement. In their view, current adaptation, „what the trait was selected for in the species being considered”, poses one of the biologically most interesting questions about a trait and can be addressed empirically by reverse-engineering or functional analysis, which is able to “shed light on its likely evolutionary history.” (Jackendoff/Pinker 2005: 212-214).
The debate regarding recursion heated up once again when Gentner et al. (2006) claimed to have found recursion-abilities in starlings, and Perruchet & Rey criticized Fitch and Hauser’s original experiment that established the inability of monekys to master “phrase structure grammars” (Fitch & Hauser 2004). Regarding the ability of recursion in starlings, these two posts are especially interesting. First this one by Mark Liberman, and the other, where David Beaver regards the recursion-abilities of starlings which in the respect of center-embedded grammars actually seem to be better than ours, and comes to the ironical conclusion that
“we have firm and amazing evidence for a biologically unique language module. The trouble is, starlings have it, and we don't.”Other excellent post from the Language Log about HCF's claims can be found here, here, here, here, and here.
Hauser, Marc D., Noam Chomsky and W. Tecumseh Fitch 2002. “The Faculty of Language: What Is It, Who Has It, and How Did It Evolve?” In: Science 298, 1569-1579.
Fitch, W. Tecumseh and Marc. D Hauser. 2004. “Computational Constraints on Syntactic Processing in a Nonhuman Primate” In: Science 303: 377-380
Fitch, W. Tecumseh, Marc D. Hauser and Noam Chomsky 2005. “The Evolution of the Language Faculty: Clarifications and Implications.” In: Cognition 97, 179-210.
Jackendoff, Ray & Steven Pinker 2005. “The Nature of the Language Faculty and its Implications for Evolution of Language (Reply to Fitch, Hauser, and Chomsky).” In: Cognition 97, 211-225.
Pinker, Steven & Ray Jackendoff 2005. “The Faculty of Language: What’s Special about it?” In: Cognition 95, 201-236.