所有的语言有什么共同点? Cameron Morin: What do all languages have in common?

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演员: Cameron Morin


台词
Language is endlessly variable.
语言是千变万化的。
Each of us can come up with an infinite number of sentences
每个人都可以用我们的母语
in our native language,
想出无数个句子,
and we’re able to do so from an early age—
而且我们从小就可以做到这一点——
almost as soon as we start to communicate in sentences.
几乎是早在我们会使用 句子进行交流时就会了。
How is this possible?
这怎么可能呢?
In the early 1950s, Noam Chomsky proposed a theory
在 1950 年代初期,诺姆·乔姆斯基 (Noam Chomsky)提出了
based on the observation that the key to this versatility seems to be grammar:
一种基于观察结果的理论, 即这种多变性似乎要归功于语法:
the familiar grammatical structure of an unfamiliar sentence
即使我们并不熟悉某个句子, 只要我们熟悉其语法结构,
points us toward its meaning.
就能明白它的意思。
He suggested that there are grammatical rules
他指出,有些语法规则
that apply to all languages, and that the rules are innate—
适用于所有语言, 而且那些规则是与生俱来的——
the human brain is hardwired to process language according to these rules.
人类大脑天生就会 根据这些规则处理语言。
He labelled this faculty universal grammar,
他把这种功能称为“普遍语法”,
and it launched lines of inquiry that shaped both the field of linguistics
这一概念随即引发了一系列相关探索, 并在未来几十年里塑造了
and the emerging field of cognitive science for decades to come.
语言学领域和新兴的认知科学领域。
Chomsky and other researchers set out to investigate
乔姆斯基和其他研究员们探究了
the two main components of universal grammar:
普遍语法的两个重要组成部分:
first, whether there are, in fact, grammar rules
首先,是否有一些语言规则
that are universal to all languages,
是适用于所有语言的,
and, second, whether these rules are hardwired in the brain.
其次,这些规则 是否是大脑与生俱来的。
In attempts to establish the universal rules of grammar,
在尝试建立通用语法规则的过程中,
Chomsky developed an analytical tool known as generative syntax,
乔姆斯基开发了一种分析工具, 也就是所谓的“生成语法”,
which represents the order of words in a sentence in hierarchical syntax trees
它代表在层次语法树上 一个句子中的词序,
that show what structures are possible.
以显示哪些结构可行。
Based on this tree, we could suggest a grammar rule
根据语法树,我们就可以 提出一条语法规则,
that adverbs must occur in verb phrases.
那就是副词一定出现在动词短语中。
But with more data, it quickly becomes clear
但有了更多数据后, 很快就能更清楚地了解到,
that adverbs can appear outside of verb phrases.
副词也会出现在动词短语之外。
This simplified example illustrates a major problem:
这个简单的例子 说明了一个主要问题:
it takes a lot of data from each individual language
每种语言都需要获得大量的数据
to establish the rules for that language,
才能为那种语言建立语法规则,
before we can even begin to determine
甚至早于我们可以开始判断
which rules all languages might have in common.
所有语言拥有的共同规则。
When Chomsky proposed universal grammar,
当乔姆斯基提出普遍语法的概念时,
many languages lacked the volume of recorded samples
许多语言还缺少记录在案的样本,
necessary to analyze them using generative syntax.
以至于无法使用生成语法来分析它们。
Even with lots of data,
就算有很多数据,
mapping the structure of a language is incredibly complex.
描绘出语言结构的过程也相当复杂。
After 50 years of analysis, we still haven’t completely figured out English.
在经过了长达 50 年的认真分析之后, 我们仍然难以完全理解英语规则。
As more linguist data was gathered and analyzed,
在搜集和分析了更多的语言数据后,
it became clear that languages around the world differ widely,
我们发现世界各地的 语言差异越来越明显,
challenging the theory that there were universal grammar rules.
从而对存在通用语法规则的理论 提出了挑战。
In the 1980s, Chomsky revised his theory
在 1980 年代, 乔姆斯基修改了他的理论,
in an attempt to accommodate this variation.
试图将这些多样性纳入思考。
According to his new hypothesis of principles and parameters,
根据他对规则和参数的假设,
all languages shared certain grammatical principles,
所有的语言都具有 某种共同的语法规则,
but could vary in their parameters, or the application of these principles.
但在它们的参数 或者应用上有所差异。
For example, a principle is “every sentence must have a subject,"
比如说,一个原则是 “所有的句子必须要有主语,”
but the parameter of whether the subject must be explicitly stated
但是是否需要 明确与主语有关的参数
could vary between languages.
就会因语言而异。
The hypothesis of principles and parameters
对规则和参数的假设
still didn’t answer the question of which grammatical principles are universal.
仍然无法解答哪种语言规则是共通的。
In the early 2000s, Chomsky suggested that there’s just one shared principle,
在 2000 年初, 乔姆斯基认为只有一条共通的规则,
called recursion, which means structures can be nested inside each other.
叫做“递归”,意思就是 结构可以互相套用。
Take this sentence,
比如这句话,
which embeds a sentence within a sentence within a sentence.
一个句子套在一个句子中, 然后又套在另一个句子中。
Or this sentence, which embeds a noun phrase in a noun phrase
或者这个句子, 名词短语套着名词短语,
in a noun phrase.
再套着另一个名词短语。
Recursion was a good candidate for a universal grammar rule
递归是普遍语法的最优规则,
because it can take many forms.
因为它有很多形式。
However, in 2005 linguists published findings
然而,在 2005 年, 语言学家们发表了他们
on an Amazonian language called Piraha,
关于一种亚马逊河流域语言的发现, 这种语言叫毗拉哈语(Piraha),
which doesn’t appear to have any recursive structures.
它没有任何递归式的结构。
So what about the other part of Chomsky’s theory,
再来看看乔姆斯基理论的另一部分,
that our language faculty is innate?
我们的语言规则是与生俱来的吗?
When he first proposed universal grammar,
当他初次提出普遍语法的时候,
the idea that there was a genetically determined aspect of language acquisition
关于语言获取的能力 部分决于基因的观点
had a profound, revolutionary impact.
产生了深远的、革命性的影响。
It challenged the dominant paradigm, called behaviorism.
它挑战了主流的范式,即“行为主义”。
Behaviorists argued that all animal and human behaviors, including language,
行为学家们认为 所有生物的行为,包括语言,
were acquired from the outside by the mind,
都是大脑后天习得的,
which starts out as a blank slate.
而最初的大脑是一张白纸。
Today, scientists agree that behaviorism was wrong,
而今,科学家们普遍赞成 行为主义的想法是错误的这一观点,
and there is underlying, genetically encoded biological machinery
并认为语言学习背后的确存在
for language learning.
基因编码的生物机制。
Many think the same biology responsible for language
许多人认为语言背后的生物学
is also responsible for other aspects of cognition.
同时也负责认知的其它方面。
So they disagree with Chomsky’s idea
所以,他们反对乔姆斯基的想法,
that there is a specific, isolated, innate language faculty in the brain.
即大脑中有一种明确的、 独立的、与生俱来的语言机能,
The theory of universal grammar prompted the documentation and study
普遍语法理论促成了许多
of many languages that hadn’t been studied before.
从未被研究的语言 开始被记录、研究。
It also caused an old idea to be reevaluated and eventually overthrown
它也让一个老旧的观点 被不断重新评估,甚至推翻,
to make room for our growing understanding of the human brain.
为我们进一步理解人类大脑腾出空间。