As I look through the structure of the words and the structure of the sentences, it just becomes clear that they don’t have recursion. If recursion is what Chomsky and Mark Hauser and Tecumseh Fitch have called ‘the essential property of language’, the essential building block–in fact they’ve gone so far as to claim that that might be all there really is to human language that makes it different from other kinds of systems–then, the fact that recursion is absent in a language–Piraha–means that this language is fundamentally different from their predictions…
My original concern was to think about Language with a capital ‘L’. Human Language, what it’s like in the brain, what the brain has to be like to sustain the capacity for Language. The most influential ideas for me in my early research were the ideas of Noam Chomsky, principally the proposal that there is an innate capacity for grammar in our genes, and that the acquisition of any given language is simply learning what the different parameter-settings are. What is a parameter?