One relevant question remains unanswered: what principles in language would be specific to it or would it belong to other systems? To answer, Linguistics – science that studies human language – has been developing, with greater emphasis in the early 2000s, research on language within the so-called “biolinguistics”. The classic Three Factors in Language Design article by the American linguist Noam Chomsky (Chomsky, 2005) talks about three factors that work in the formation of human language: I – genetic endowment, II – experience and III – principles that are independent of language and even the organism. I and II have been well studied. III, not so much. Only in the study of Maia (2016) on coordination and embedding of prepositional structures, language processing effects were associated with factor III, and, as far as we know, the first thesis in Brazil to deal with this is the one I defended (OLIVEIRA, 2017), “The Processing of Subject-Object Asymmetry and the Hypothesis of Asymmetry as Third Factor”, a subject also discussed at the commemorative event “A UFRJ faz 100 anos” (The Federal University of Rio de Janeiro is 100 years old), in 2017.
The classic Three Factors in Language Design article by the American linguist Noam Chomsky (Chomsky, 2005) talks about three factors that work in the formation of human language: I – genetic endowment, II – experience and III – principles that are independent of language and even the organism. I and II have been well studied.
2. About Symmetry, Asymmetry, and Language
The notion of symmetry is usually associated with “order,” “correspondence,” “equilibrium,” and asymmetry can be linked to “imbalance,” “difference,” “conflict.” In the world, symmetry can be exemplified with the nautilus shell. The interior of the shell, sectioned in the photo in half, is formed by symmetrically separated chambers:
What about asymmetry? Roberto Lent, Professor in Faculty of Medicine of Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, in his book “100 Bilhões de Neurônios” (Hundred Bilion Neurons), teaches that:
“(…) Asymmetries are also common in the animal world: the heart hangs to the left, the liver is on the right side, the hands are not exactly the same, and so on. The nervous system does not escape this rule: it is asymmetrical morphologically and functionally, as are many asymmetrical behaviors that it controls. But human neural asymmetries have reached a high degree of complexity, making it possible to specialize one side of the brain in some functions, and the other side in others. “(LENT, 2001: 681)
Asymmetries are also found in the way we speak, read.
Interestingly, asymmetries are also found in the way we speak, read, and process linguistic information in the mind / brain. Today we know that the processing of the reading is done in a small region behind the brain, on the left side, the Visual Word Form Area (DEHAENE, 2012), activated when we read words from our language, not pictures, for example. Another asymmetry is seen in the word order. Note the survey by Matthew Dryer in 1992:
The processing of the reading is done in a small region behind the brain, on the left side, the Visual Word Form Area (DEHAENE, 2012).
Remembering: S = subject, V = verb and O = object. There is a Subject-Object Asymmetry (ASO): languages with an initial object add up to only 2%. The initial subjects totaled 87%. Currently, the ASO has been studied in Portuguese by myself and other authors, with varied experimental techniques in the field of Psycholinguistics and Language Neuroscience research. You can learn more by looking for the references at the end of this article.
Several notions have been related to the idea of third factor and many still remain forgotten or little brought to the scientific evaluation (see JOHANSSON, 2013), although there are general principles that act on the nature and language, as asymmetry. Such notions should be researched in the light of linguistic science, in order to better understand the three factors in language and also reach the general public, by aproximating the linguistics to other natural sciences.
CHOMSKY, N. Three Factors In Language Design. Linguistic Inquiry, vol. 36, n.1, p.1-22, winter 2005.
DEHAENE, Stanislas. Os Neurônios da Leitura: como a ciência explica nossa capacidade de ler. Porto Alegre: Editora Penso, 2012. Tradução Leonor Scliar-Cabral.
DRYER, M.S. “The Greenbergian Word Order Correlations”. Language, 68(1), p.81-138, 1992.
JOHANSSON, S. Biolinguistics or Physicolinguistics? Is the Third Factor Helpful or Harmful in Explaining Language? Biolinguistics 7: 249–275, 2013.
LENT, R. Cem Bilhões de Neurônios. Rio de Janeiro: Atheneu, 2010. 2ª ed.
OLIVEIRA, Fernando Lúcio de. O Processamento da Assimetria Sujeito-Objeto em Construções do Tipo QU no Português Brasileiro: Interrogativas e Relativas. Dissertação de Mestrado. Rio de Janeiro, UFRJ, 2013.
OLIVEIRA, Fernando Lúcio de. O Processamento da Assimetria Sujeito-Objeto e a Hipótese da Assimetria como Terceiro Fator. Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, 2017. Tese de Doutorado.