The biological and conventional in a simpler case

Suppose we all woke up convinced we had to divide politics or language or ping-pong into what was biological and what was conventional/ socially constructed. 

Maybe language is the low-hanging fruit. Examples of the conventional or socially constructed seem easy to spot: the meanings of terms; the order of subject, object and verb; what the gender of “moon” is; whether one has a word for “beech tree” or “brunch”, etc. Here’s some candidates for what would count as “biological” or “natural” in language:

1.) Interjections like yelps of pain or mourning wails (They’re all elongated vowel sounds?)

2.) Chomskyan Universal Grammar.

3.) Some expressive verbal system later developed into writing, hand-signs, Morse code, etc. As verbal, it is based off the ≈20 simple consonant sounds that the human vocal apparatus can form, as “later developed” it can also include hand gestures, facial expressions, and who knows what else.

4.) A nexus of logical noun and verb with attendant modifiers thereto.

5.) The fact that human beings speak.

Looking over the list, it looks like

1.) This would be “biological” because done spontaneously or without coaching, and maybe for being a behavior shown in non-human animals.

2.) This is a theory that argues for language having a natural basis because, inter alia (a) language behaviors are so quickly formed off limited evidence by not-so-clever persons that they must have some in-built biological basis and (b) thinking that language is purely mimetic and conventional to the exclusion of biological mechanisms is like thinking that puberty is conventional to the exclusion of biological mechanisms.

3.) This grounds the biological character of language in an analysis of the structure of the organs of speech, and then seeing the ways in which biological structures can generate adjuncts and derivative senses of using organs to do similar things.

4.) Language is natural in this sense because that’s how it’s defined, but it would be really odd to call it “biological”. This seems to show that “biology” isn’t a great way at hitting at all that is natural or necessary.

5.) This sense is biological

a.) As a behavioral phenotype. Pigs root, birds nest, humans speak

b.) As a normative description. If your child can’t speak X number of words by age Y, he goes to speech therapy.

This last sense is interesting in that even under the hypothesis that one divides speech into the conventional from the biological, both the conventional and biological elements will count as biological so far as speech as speech is here seen as “biological”. One suspects that, if this is the case, one loses the value in trying to distinguish convention and biology.

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