Epigenetics and Language: The Minimalist Program, Connectionism and Biology

Peter A. Reich, Blake A. Richards

Abstract


Chomsky claims that linguistics should be thought of as a branch of biology. Lorenzo and Longa claim that the Minimalist Program is better than previous approaches at connecting language to biology because it relies on epigenetic
processes in development, which is the current trend in biology. Epigenetic processes alter gene expression in a heritable manner without changing DNA sequence. Recently, biologists have come to see epigenetics as extremely important to development. We agree with Lorenzo and Longa that inclusion of epigenetic processes in linguists' theories of language development is important if linguists desire unification with biology. However, Lorenzo and Longa do not discuss processes that alter gene expression in a heritable manner without altering DNA. A close examination of their position illuminates a large gap between the Minimalist
Program and epigenetics. In contrast, there is a relatively small gap between connectionism and epigenetics.
Language development in connectionist systems involves modifications of neural connections. Research shows that modification of neural connections involves processes that alter gene expression without altering DNA. It follows that connectionism is the superior paradigm for researchers interested in unification between biology and linguistics.

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