A Clash of Theories by Candi Lyn Siemens
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Against the light of a thousand stars, a colorless green spaceship pauses furiously. Along its side runs a narrow blue stripe below its designation, printed in large block letters, LAD-1965. Inside the ship, pacing the deck of the white-carpeted bridge, the captain waits for his next challenge. And it always comes. It seems as if some force of the universe constantly challenged every ship in the galaxies. That was life here.

The other officers on the bridge kept a constant eye on the screens lining the back half of the room. The screens displayed grey-skinned Martians spying on human children. The children were of infinite variety—color, economic background, family situations, and age. In the corner of each screen, a counter kept track of each new word spoken by the child pictured.

The captain stopped before his chair, halfway to sitting, when a proximity alert went off. He immediately jerked to attention.

"Report." He snapped to the aging officer manning the security station.

"Captain. It's another ship and it's set on a collision course."

"On the main view-screen."

A ship flashed on the screen. Bleached pink, designated UG-1975, the ship careened calmly through the intervening space. The UG-1975 was twice the size of the LAD-1965.

The captain straightened his spine and took a quick breath. "Prepare our defenses. Open communication."

The view-screen's image changed to that of a thin, brown-haired man wearing glasses.

The communications officer exclaimed, "Captain. He looks just like—."

"I know. They always do." The captain smoothed a hand through his own brown curls and addressed the image on screen. "I am Captain Hardwire. State your name and business here."

The captain of the UG-1975 spoke softly. "Captain I. Nateness. We are here to take you over, change you, and make you a part of us."

The gasps on the bridge of LAD-1965 were audible. Captain Hardwire grinned. Finally, a worthy challenge.

"Hit us with your best shot."

Captain Nateness smiled back. "We will."

Both captains sat in their chairs and leaned back. They were ready.

Captain Nateness lobbed the opening shot. "The UG theory claims that linguistic knowledge consists of an inborn, universal, skeletal protolanguage, the details of which are elaborated in the course of learning. (Learning and Memory)"

The LAD-1965 captain nodded. "Interesting. Interesting but what does that even mean?"

"It means that there is an innate system in place wherein humans recognize word order and phonemic difference without formal education. Without training or extensive correction. It is the subconscious knowledge of grammatical categories and the formation of phrasal structures." Captain Nateness crossed his arms, the picture of smugness.

"Grammatical categories? Please. Knowing your verb from your noun is taught but only the LAD explains why children learn thousands of words before age six with little to no instruction. On average, they learn nine words a day." Captain Hardwire braced his elbows on his knees. "There is a biological device that develops in children to enable them to acquire these words at such an amazing rate. "The onset of puberty, for instance, is an aspect of human growth that is like the "growth" of the language organ." (Language Organ) And this language organ starts functioning when children are young and works in over drive for five to six years before it starts to taper off."

"Language organ? Please." Captain Nateness scoffed. "Point at this so-called language organ. Show me where it is. Show me where it is and I'll concede this fight right now." The captain smirked. "You can't, can you?"

"You're right. I can't. It's not exactly ethical to operate on living humans. I may not be able to point to it but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist." Captain Hardwire's voice whined a bit at the end.

"I can demonstrate over and over again how children make the same mistakes over and over again with words like "deer" and "deers" and "mouse" and "mouses". They do this because they must be taught the exceptions to the rules but they learned the rule in the first place without instructions. Without correction. And quickly. "The implication is that in order for learning to be accomplished so rapidly and under such unfavorable circumstances, much of what the learner knows in the end must be known from the outset." (Learning and Memory) Captain Nateness leapt to his feet and pointed at his screen with an excited fist. "Universal grammar theory is the theory with more evidence. More repeatable results. The UG theory is clearly the superior theory. Concede and you will be assimilated."

Captain Hardwire climbed slowly to his feet and assumed a parade rest posture. He nodded his head once. "UG theory doesn't explain how those words are learned so quickly and only at that rate during a certain time in a child's development. The LAD theory is still viable but for now…" The captain took a deep breath. "I concede."

With those words, the UG-1975 drifted closer until the hulls connected. Instead of a bump or crash, the smaller ship was pulled forward and subsumed by the larger. Slowly but inevitably the LAD-1965 was sucked in. Parts of it were kept and added to the other but the rest broke off and floated free without power or purpose for now.

As the bridge of the LAD-1965 began to merge, the communications officer spoke. "Sir. A new weapon has come in. It's called the FOX2P gene."

Captain Hardwire grinned and the fight came back into his posture. "Captain Nateness, cease your assimilation. We have something new to discuss."

The two ships floated, connected incompletely, in a vast space lit by bright stars in a rainbow of colors inside the mind of a mild-mannered professor.


Works Referenced

"The Language Organ Grows like Any Other Body Organ: Noam Chomsky (1928)." Big Ideas Simply Explained: The Psychology Book, Dorling Kindersley Publishing, Inc., 1st edition, 2012. Credo Reference, Accessed 20 Aug 2017.

Learning and Memory. Ed. John H. Byrne. 2nd ed. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. p311-314.

Liesbeth Koenen. “The Double Life of Noam Chomsky.” The Double Life of Noam Chomsky, chomsky.info/20031206/. Accessed 20 Aug. 2017.

Rowe, Bruce M., and Diane P. Levine. A Concise Introduction to Linguistics. Boston, MA, Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2009.