Saturday, 3 March 2012

Nature and Culture

"A nature can never be made to change; what has been once formed in it cannot be reformed by any sort of change. Change does not involve the nature itself; it necesssarily modifies, but does not transform the structure"

- Clement of Alexandria, Christ the Educator, cited in Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Dissidences, page 108.

I found this quotation today (more clearing out) - I had written it down many years ago as a possible epigraph for my book, Language in Mind and Language in Society.

It expresses perfectly what happens in such language phenomena as hyper-correction or, more subtly, in the use of what Henning Andersen called "adaptive rules".

It is, however, a pessimistic doctrine: it comes close to implying things like "Once a racist, always a racist" no matter how much outward behaviour is modified.

Equally, what is "merely" adaptive for a first [teaching] generation is learnt by a second [learning] generation as part of nature itself, since the adaptive character of outward behaviour is not marked in such a way that the learner knows to discount it. A child learning a language does not parse a parent's adaptive rule as an adaptation; the child parses it as part of Nature.

Clement of Alexandria correctly recognises the generative character of "Nature" able to output a (structured) response to new situations: Nature, as structure, is for him generative in Chomsky's sense that from a finite structure infinite responses can be generated.

For more, go to the essay "Language in Mind and Language in Society" on my website www.selectedworks.co.uk

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