Human grammar is always a project. — It is not to say we are forever learners. It is to say that grammar never is a program, though there have been attempts to make such a picture. Wiktor Jassem quotes Paul Postal:
Grammars are represented in human neural systems and provide implicit knowledge of the language they define. A grammar is thus in certain ways analogous to a computer program in that it is a formal system partially determining the behaviour of a physical system.
Nature and information
Neurophysiology began applying the phrase information processing to human bodily structures in the 20th century, much in rejection of vitalist ideas. Bergson’s élan vital was the last significant effort, and vitalism remains branded “bio-theology” by Joseph C. Keating Junior. The side effect has been in emphasis on program approaches to the human being, whereas natural language is not option-driven.
The word feedback emerged around 1860, for mechanics. Also today, it is often associated with machines or devices, and unwanted interference.
The truth is that intrinsic feedback has been indispensable for biological functioning, and the term applies to the human species; of course, not as machines. For insight into own inner function, feel welcome to consider the Grammar Web Log, Mind practice. (The word feedback does not have to mean an opinion.)
Program and feedback
Common sense, a loop can be open or closed. Open-loop biological processes go their course as inbuilt instruction requires. They compare with programs. Closed-loop processes are feedback.
We talk about open or closed loops, since all biological programs depend on feedback for enactment, including the DNA for active protein. Feedback is the nature’s way to delimit on programs, as live organisms need to sustain in variable environments. Excess program would thwart the ability to react or adapt.
Reliance on feedback increases with function complexity. In humans, already spinal motor neurons make information pools, and further activity depends on intrinsic feedback. To compare, trees can’t walk, and there is no intrinsic feedback scope in stone.
The relevant instinct for feedback capacities is that for self-preservation. In speech and language, the requirement for feedback capability approximates a natural drive. The requirement is not a program.
For the proportion on program and feedback in language, we can compare spoonerisms. The slips of tongue are segmental, and this is about the scope the nervous system allows for the open loop or program, in language.
Biologically, intrinsic feedback is a natural closed-loop capability over open-loop sequences within own body. Part the capability remains outside interoception; otherwise, it is interoceptive or exteroceptive. Much of this feedback competence remains a potential to act, with the course of activity not predetermined.
Making notes for example, we may think about marking our written content for further use; we yet have the choice to do this after another stage in the work, or even to change or abandon the idea altogether. Artificial intelligence would depend on algorithmic routines. Robots and computers are results of program approaches to information processing.
A feedback approach to language is no recourse to vitalism, with its mesmerism or magnetism. Further, person neural specificity excludes human speech and language from successful external management. Successful management incurs no information loss, interference, damage, or hindrance, to the person whose brain language faculty it is. Artificial intelligence works upon external command.
Natural grammar is a set of regularities representative of a natural language. A representative regularity can help standard and correct language use.
A program is determined from beginning to end, whereas natural language is infinite. There is no way to calculate all possible linguistic forms or structures, and there is no genetic program to produce literature. Natural grammar is not analogous to a computer program.
A feedback approach to language does not rid of the human person. Therefore, some of the arguments against vitalism might re-emerge. Mr. Keating mentioned a behaviorist, F.B. Skinner:
Vitalism has many faces and has sprung up in many areas of scientific inquiry. Psychologist B.F. Skinner, for example, pointed out the irrationality of attributing behavior to mental states and traits. Such ‘mental way stations’, he argued, amount to excess theoretical baggage which fails to advance cause-and-effect explanations by substituting an unfathomable psychology of ‘mind’.
The cause-and-effect behaviorist approach can lead only to a very limited picture for speech and language. The picture cannot be “purely scientific”, as it is not objectively representative. Feel welcome to read:
Human brains, parameters, and devices