On language, it’s Wolfe versus Chomsky and Darwin. Pass the popcorn, and perhaps a martini.

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Bonfire of the theories: Wolfe battles Chomsky over roots of language, by Edward Helmore (The Guardian)

The arcane study of language has a new literary entrant: the famed New Journalism author Tom Wolfe. Never one to back away from a fight, Wolfe, 85, has picked two disputes in his new book, The Kingdom of Speech – one with Charles Darwin and a second with linguist Noam Chomsky, 87, professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology …

… “The more I thought about it, the less Darwin’s doctrine held, up in my opinion,” he said. Evolutionary development of Homo sapiens, in particular, “drifts into periods where there is no evidence”. Those doubts segued into doubts about the origin of language – man’s singular gift – that he believes was not the product of evolution but a man-made tool.

“My contention is that language is not the result of evolution but essentially a verbal trick that was invented by human beings. It’s a memory aid – a mnemonic – that enables human beings to store away a piece of information and compare it to a new piece of information and draw conclusions.” No other species has a similar ability, making it the secret of our dominance as a species and Wolfe writes: “Humans are pretty pathetic physically. If you weigh 150 pounds and you come up against a 150-pound butterfly in battle, you’re done for. It must be 10 feet tall. But, with planning, humans control every animal on Earth. We’re very generous – we even create animal preserves where wild animals can live. But, oh boy, if they cross the line of the reserve, they’re done for.”

Wolfe then moves on to Chomsky …

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