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2 - Nature, nurture, and heritability

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2015

Dan Dediu
Affiliation:
Max-Planck-Institut für Psycholinguistik, The Netherlands
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Summary

In this chapter we approach, at a fairly abstract level, the fundamental questions concerning the relationships between the phenotype (the observable properties of individuals), the genotype and the environment. We discuss the paramount importance of variation in studying these relationships and we define, estimate and discuss the meanings and misinterpretations of heritability. Far from being a simple concept, heritability will turn out to have some non-intuitive properties that make the interpretation of heritability estimates quite a tricky exercise. Likewise, we will discover that, in fact, all the related concepts and distinctions, such as innate and acquired, or nature and nurture, are fuzzy and far from their apparent clarity in everyday discourse. We will end with a very brief survey of heritability studies in speech and language. This chapter also introduces several fundamental concepts of statistics that are necessary for a proper understanding of many topics covered in this book.

Phenotype, genotype and environment

It is unquestionable that both “nature” and “nurture” are required for the development of a linguistic human being. Lacking “nature” will limit language development no matter how much “nurture” there might be, as many a pet owner can easily confirm. This is seemingly supported by studies of chimps (such as Nim Chimpsky and Washoe) reared in conditions similar to those experienced by human babies and infants, but which nevertheless fail to go beyond a rather limited level of language usage. On the other hand, having “nature” but lacking “nurture” is equally devastating, as shown by the cases of children who, for various reasons, have not been exposed to language during the so-called critical period for language acquisition (a well-known case being Genie) and who fail to develop full-blown language despite considerable efforts.

Thus, if we denote, in a highly abstract manner, the “nature” as G (from genetics) and the “nurture” as E (for environment), then we can attempt to write down a symbolic equation describing how these two factors relate and interact in producing the phenomenon of interest, P (for phenotype).

Type
Chapter
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An Introduction to Genetics for Language Scientists
Current Concepts, Methods, and Findings
, pp. 7 - 43
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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  • Nature, nurture, and heritability
  • Dan Dediu, Max-Planck-Institut für Psycholinguistik, The Netherlands
  • Book: An Introduction to Genetics for Language Scientists
  • Online publication: 05 April 2015
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511735875.002
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  • Nature, nurture, and heritability
  • Dan Dediu, Max-Planck-Institut für Psycholinguistik, The Netherlands
  • Book: An Introduction to Genetics for Language Scientists
  • Online publication: 05 April 2015
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511735875.002
Available formats
×

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Nature, nurture, and heritability
  • Dan Dediu, Max-Planck-Institut für Psycholinguistik, The Netherlands
  • Book: An Introduction to Genetics for Language Scientists
  • Online publication: 05 April 2015
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511735875.002
Available formats
×