Daniel G. Freedman
The Committee on Human Development The University of Chicago
The thesis here is very simple minded. It is merely an extension of the monistic position in the mind-body controversy and seeks to emphasize the point that everything that man does, at some level of analysis, is reflective of his biological makeup.
Dualistic positions usually emphasize the opposition of learning and biology, so let us start by asking what we mean by learned behavior. Language provides a convenient paradigm. How is it that little children learn that sounds stand for something concrete (nouns) or actions (verbs), or, later, that they can modify the first two categories? Imitation is not the answer, for parrots can imitate but they never use language. Children somehow attach sounds to things and to actions naturally, picking up the sounds and designates of the caretakers with extraordinary skill. Even though we cannot now know what they are, biological structures must be posed as accounting for this ability. An entire school of developmental linguistics has arisen around this simple point and, as most know, the work of Chomsky ( 1965) on how meaning is derived from language has become the focus of a biologically based linguistic theory.
Incidentally, the fact that chimps and gorillas can be taught deaf sign language and that they can communicate it with facility is another sign of their evolutionary proximity to man. Although they never master human grammatical usage, as does even the youngest speaking human child ( McNeill , 1970), no other animal has come close to their manlike communicative skills.