Steven Pinker is a Professor at Harvard College, specializing in evolutionary psychology. He has published a number of books dealing with psycholinguistics and cognition and, although Jewish, is a confirmed atheist.
Steven Pinker’s hypothesis (Pinker 1994) follows the standard evolutionary dictum that, “given enough time anything can happen,” meaning that for language there is no need for a creator or designer. Nevertheless, Pinker uses the terms creation and design frequently and freely in his highly speculative claim that language is an instinct. Instead of being a barking human, our brains are much further along the evolutionary scale and have developed language that it “could have been on the order of 350,000 generations” (p.345) old. Therefore, given enough time, language happened.
The sub-title of his book is “How the mind creates language,” proposing once again that language is a self-selecting, self-creating mechanism that somehow had to happen with humans just because we recognize and call ourselves humans instead of dogs. Although Chomsky is Pinker’s hero, he does not accept Chomsky’s dismissal of natural selection as having no substance in language evolution and adheres instead to his own definition of innateness in language. Pinker also laments that Chomsky sometimes sounds like a “crypto-creationist,” although he is quick to assure his readers that this is not the case (p. 355).
Pinker associates his own views of “language instinct” with Chomsky’s hypothesis of Universal Grammar (UG), the notion that all humans have one underlying, abstract grammar, and that all languages in the world are built upon it. However, Pinker does not accept Chomsky’s narrower view of innateness because it presents a problem by indicating that language exists without natural mechanistic causes. For Pinker, “it is the precise wiring of the brain’s micro-circuitry that makes things happen, not gross size, shape, or neuron packing” (p.364). According to Pinker then, there is nothing in humans except circuits in the brain that, by instinct, they react to.
And what is instinct? In an ensuing circular answer Pinker claims that whatever we react to in our minds when we speak a language is instinct. And what is a language? It is something in our mind that is the result of our instincts. Using this kind of circular logic, Pinker is safe in asserting that all notions of a creator or designer are unnecessary because we are our own creators and designers.
The thousands of examples of multiple languages and dialects in the world would suggest that the instincts of humans would have to be as varied as their languages. In PNG alone there are over 850 languages. However, we don’t need 350,000 generations to arrive at Proto-Papuan, unless Pinker would suggest that the first Papuan language instincts were barks or grunts that finally evolved into full languages. Pinker claims that languages of “intermediate complexity are easy to imagine” (p. 366). Are they? What would they look like? Esperanto? Perhaps a Pidgin? But Pidgins are created by virtue of contact between two or more groups that do not know each others languages and are therefore not instinctive. Pidgin speakers don’t bark like dogs if they are hit or stepped on—they say something in the created language. But they can only self-create the language on the basis of the contact languages with which they are acquainted. There is no instinct involved, unless it is an “instinct” to talk.
Piker turns to Pidgins as examples of the primitive and formative state of language development, as Bickerton (1981) did, but this solves nothing because Pidgins are always based upon contact languages of considerable complexity. The eventual and resulting complexity in Pidgins develops as the languages become creolized through contact, not as they develop by instinct.
The diversity of the so-called Papuan (non-Austronesian) languages of PNG is well attested (e.g. by Wurm 1982 and Foley 1987) and is a case in point. How could the diversity arise based upon language instinct? Some linguists (e.g., Ross and Pawley) are in the process of trying to reconstruct the ancestral language(s) for the Trans-New Guinea Phylum (which they often call a “Family”). However, this is only one of perhaps 30-60 separate and distinct groups of languages (depending on who is counting and what they are counting), many of which show little or very little relationships with other Papuan groups. In one province of PNG alone (the SandaunProvince), there are seven distinct groups of languages that show no connections (although they have a number of languages within each group), as well as a couple of isolates. To portray some idea of this diversity, linguists have borrowed taxonomical classification terms from biologists, such as phylum and family, and added others of their own, such as stock, language, dialect and idiolect. But are such groups the result of the language instinct in people, or are they the result of the creation of social beings followed by culture contact and innovations?
Of course languages and their dialects often depict geographical barriers, such as rivers or mountains, or social barriers, such as feuds, trade, warfare and marriage. Nevertheless, in every case where groups of languages can be re-constructed to some “parent” language, there is evidence that the language and culture was represented by people who were highly creative. These are not languages based on some “primitive” instincts, nor are they languages of “intermediate complexity” that are outside the scope of Western (or Eastern) linguistic or cultural development.
The languages of PNG serve the people who speak them well. Wiru speakers may not immediately analyze or recognize the symbolic features of their language, but upon discussion of such features, they are quick to provide insights on how they believe the language functions and developed. Similarly, the Kewa people understand dialect features and differences. For example, as one West Kewa dialect speaker told me, “We don’t like l’s” and indeed the loss of lV represents a major contrast between the West and East dialects.
The nature and extend of language creativity (and not instinct) is borne out in many ways—such as by:
- Singing and composing songs. Was there first song simply one tone in the “original” language which then developed by stages into a song? No, if there was going to be a song there has to be contrastive tunes and a melody to begin with. Songs are a compositional unit and created by a person with melodies (not instincts) in his head. Songs don’t develop one note at a time, reflecting a proto-song.
- Geometric art, represented by weaving and carving, tattoos and much more. When a Kewa man begins to weave a basket he has some picture of that basket in his mind. He doesn’t begin with an “instinct” about weaving baskets, nor does he have a “basket weaving gene” in his genome. A woven basket may start out as a number of physical reeds, but the maker conceives its pattern and final picture.
- Metaphors, similes, symbols and icons. When a Kewa person constructs a saying that is highly metaphorical, he already knows what he wants it to mean literally. How can he do this if language is an instinct? If a Kewa man says about another, “He sleeps face down,” he is not talking literally. He means that the person is unconcerned about the welfare of others. Do idioms arise piece by piece, lexeme by lexeme, or are they a total construction from the very beginning?
- Constructing slang and secret languages. The use of secret language is a creative process that represents a selection of features and words that are socially determined by discussion and interaction, acceptance and usage. If a Kewa man says that “the pig’s heart is enclosed by its trunk,” how would a person not acquainted with Kewa culture know that the real meaning is that someone is surrounded by their enemies and has no way of escape? This can only be done by understanding the total cultural context, not necessarily by analyzing the linguistic bits that make up the utterance.
- Storytelling. A story has a beginning and an end to it, and of course it has characters, background, and so on. It also has a point and is constructed as a whole, not as beginning one generation, with the body of the story added the next generation, and finally the ending of the story. It doesn’t happen by chance, although versions may be added some generations later. Stories, to make sense, have a cultural context and all kinds of implied meanings are presented deliberately, not by instinct.
- Analyzing one’s own language and comparing it with another is another creative process. Did members of the first languages instinctively compare their languages? We may, as linguists, examine one contrastive feature at a time, but it is the complete contrastive picture that shows the degree of relationship between the languages. We may “feel” intuitively or by “instinct” that two languages are related, but that is not what determines their relationship. We need a complete set of procedures to examine and confirm the relationship.
- Understanding pictures and writing. A picture is a unit, so that a picture of a man is not his leg. Paleontologists may be able to reconstruct a primitive “man” from a piece of jawbone, but they don’t call the jawbone a man. They imagine what the man would have looked like and they used comparative bones and reconstructions to fill in the gaps. In the same way, hieroglyphics have to be understood as a system, indicating that they did not develop by instinct, but by reasoning and deliberate planning.
- Measuring, counting and weighing items. Generally, languages have systems that at least count to one—in fact, all people have to have some system to keep tract of things, so counting is part of a system that determines how many objects there are. If there was only one of a given class, there could be no contrast or variation between members of that class. In fact, there could be no class. The same follows with measuring and weighing objects. The Kewas did not have rulers or scales but they knew how to measure and determine if something was heavy or light, and it was not by instinct. It was by comparison.
- Coining, defining and spelling words. Determining how to spell words depends upon a system of spelling. Alphabets do not develop one letter at a time by some mechanistic process or by instinct. Likewise, defining words depends upon contrastive sets of meanings, not progressive instincts. Making up words depends upon imagination and creativeness, then acceptance and usage. Advertising agencies get paid large amounts of money to “create” words and expressions that the population will somehow identify with and respond to. They find out by investigation, not instinct.
- The use of space, punctuation, etc. with words and sentences. When theologians decided to mark Koine Greek with punctuation, they had to devise a whole system and they did not do it by instinct. They intuitively, in some cases, and by contrast in most, determined what would constitute words and sentences. But they created the punctuation system in reference to Greek as a whole, and the system did not self-create or develop by instinct.
- Constructing language standards, or any standard for that matter, demonstrates the human need for a systematic and consistent representation of the language. Standards are not instincts, in fact instincts may be the opposite of standards. Our instinct may be to “speak off the top of our heads,” but without a deliberate and created system of standards, we will not be understood. Standards in our analysis allow us to examine dimensions of language such as:
q Noun classes
q Verb declensions
q Irregular verbs
q Clitics and affixes
q Sound correspondences
q Naming and renaming objects
q Puzzles and patterns
q Signals and semiotics
q Acronyms and abbreviations
q Poetry and rhyming
q Constructing “scientific” vocabulary
q Separation of religion and science
q Persuasion and argument; speech acts
To account for such linguistic creativity, Pinker reduces them to a series of natural selections and mutations. The physical act of speech to him is not any more creative than the brushes or paint used by an artist or the musical instrument used by a musician. But what allows an artist to paint or a musician to play an instrument? Is it instinct? Even if the works of some impressionistic artists look void and without meaning, they think their work is of value and can represent “something” to someone.
Language is used socially—it would not be necessary without social interaction between individuals. A male dog that wants to mate simply finds a bitch that is in heat. Humans, for the most part, do not act like dogs. The love scene between humans most often depends on language. In most societies it would be a “shame” for humans to mate openly—other members of the society would be shamed by it. They would talk about it and institute laws or norms to promote what Pinker would perhaps interpret as normal instinctive actions. There may be instincts that humans and animals share, but language is not one of them, unless we wish to say that “she barked at him” is somehow instinctively akin to the “language” used by dogs.
God and Language
We read in Genesis that Adam and Eve heard God walking in the garden. Either God could walk, or it was Jesus. Adam and God and the “snake” all spoke the same language, a communicative act that has been with mankind since creation and with God before that.
In the act of creation God commands things, he talks. The “snake” knows how to argue, so language is used deceptively, in this case from the beginning story. The woman reasons and God questions: “Did you eat the fruit?” The woman knows both what a question is and how to pass blame and Adam and Even both end up ashamed of nakedness. The instinct aspect is here: to hide, to be embarrassed, not to answer, but it has nothing to do with speech. Language has already happened and the instincts are recognized by their verbal status. Thus Eve says:
- I am ashamed
- I have hidden,
- I was tricked
Later we see instances of sarcasm in language: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and even unusual cross cultural communication and interaction (with extra-celestial marriage). Still later God is reported as sorry and regretful, although he is also pleased with Noah and Abraham and has a covenant (promise) with them. So God is deliberately interacting with his created subjects and his language is deliberate, reasoned and not surprising to human respondents.
We can say therefore that God gives humans intuitions but he gives animals instincts. However, those, like Pinker, who simply see humans and animals with a common descent do not need to separate humans from animals. It follows that they should not need to separate instincts from intuitions.
Pinker represents and believes in a language system that has evolved according to natural selections that are instinctive. In this sense he typifies the received wisdom of Darwin and Neo-Darwinian scholars. But how does Pinker’s mechanistic and naturalistic view square with the record of God creating and designing one? There are considerable differences in viewpoint.
But what is a viewpoint, call it a worldview? “In its simplest terms, a worldview is a set of beliefs about the most important issues in life.” (Nash 1992.16) It comprises an underlying framework or conceptual scheme, a pattern or arrangement of ideas that are tested against other schemes. Worldviews are built on the basis of the experiences and influences that occur throughout a person’s lifetime. These are in turn represented by various values, practices and opinions that are shared with others.
To understand Pinker or ourselves we need to understand our respective worldviews, for they are represented by our lifestyle, the way in which we live and what we believe. Our worldview will also depict our values, representing what is important to us, and what we devote our attention and resources to. Worldviews come into clash regularly in all societies, e.g., in the U.S. ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ are expressions that represent opposing worldviews, and it is not surprising that Pinker seems to represent a point of view that is alien to the Bible.
In Pinker’s worldview the autonomy of the person is paramount—there is no need for God, or a god. Descartes, in his representation of the dualistic paradigm, saw man versus nature, mind against matter. Bacon bolstered the secular view with his experimental approach and today science exemplifies the modern paradigm, with the notion of the so-called objective observer. Science is now often viewed as somehow truer than mankind’s inherent view of God himself. Indeed Science (as our cultural god and guardian) has succeeded in casting a personal God out of the objective picture completely. God cannot be acknowledged in this paradigm because talk about Him is considered subjective and personal.
Nevertheless, when God is left out of the picture, or when he is trivialized as irrelevant to science and the “real world”, we end up with a particular conceptual system that ultimately will not work. All of us need to have some idea of how the contents of our present worldview have been influenced by the thinking of the past. We can then evaluate our present worldview and either improve parts of it or attempt to replace it entirely. There are several tests that can be used in examining our worldview:
- The test of reason. How logical and non-contradictory is Pinker’s view utilizing instinct? Is it illogical for us to think of a God who created the universe and therefore language? Contradiction and inconsistency are signs of error in a worldview.
- The test of experience. There is, in effect, an inner and an outer world that all humans experience—an etic and an emic view. How is what we learn (the outer world, the etic) relevant to what we know about ourselves (the inner world, the emic)? We base our logic and our conclusions on our experience. How does our reason match our experience? Have we experienced anything that would tell us that there is a God who created people speaking languages?
- The test of practice. We live in the “laboratory of life” such that we can experience our evolving worldview and learn of its practicality and value. Believing that God created language or believing that it arrived some other way are hardly new or unique experiences. People have thought deeply about such things since the beginning of mankind. But in practice, what difference has this made?
- The test of faith. It is possible to believe in something that we cannot see, although we must be able to imagine it. Yet faith seems to be a capacity that God grants to humans such that it can be expressed through reason, experienced in daily life, and evidenced in the lives and teaching of other people. Some things, such as speaking a language, can happen only in respect that by faith, experience and practice, we know that the person with whom we are communicating can understand us.
Nevertheless, we recognize that in our Western culture the values of materialism, consumerism, hedonism, individualism, and so on, are predominant, although often negative in their outcomes. Nevertheless, they are inextricably linked in our cultural experience. As individuals we not only want to conquer the material world, but we also want to utilize it for our own benefit and enjoyment. We also want to realize our full potential, to explore our options, to experience what seems best for us.
The most persistent, striking, and necessary aspect of a secular worldview is the absence of God. The void is often filled by the presence of evolution, or more accurately, that evolutionary forces replace any need for God. And although these forces are not worshiped in a religious sense, they are afforded the same status as religion, with doctrines, decrees or pronouncements from High Priests in a religious order, but in this case it is academicians of stature. Various evolutionary matters about language are simply held to be true in the secular worldview, just as God is held to be true in the Christian worldview. Not only are biological and other forms of evolution held to be true, they are claimed to be historical by virtue of the evidence that man descended from some lower order of Primates. suggesting in turn that language evolved instinctively due to a series of ecological and environmental conditions. The problem of when exactly such and such a primate became a human is always a matter of debate and conjecture, but the assumption holds in secular worldviews that humankind must have evolved from animalkind. There can be no other recognized explanation in secular science and its academic context.
Given such an assumption, the problem of how language, social organization, political structures, economic developments and religion came about is again theoretically simple, even if the explanations are not: they evolved, or in some cases devolved, only to evolve again in some other form. This is because, in this worldview, everything has to be historically connected to single and simple items that somehow benefited from the “forces” of evolution – principally natural selection and mutations. And yet no one can be certain exactly how of this actually happened because evolution itself is the result of natural forces that are random, self-selecting and self-rewarding. If language ‘works’ and is ‘functional’ then the species somehow decides (although there is of course no mental process involved in the forces of mechanistic evolution) to ‘select’ parts of language that reinforce man and get rid of that which is detrimental to development. Our genes are “selfish” and employ natural mechanisms to get their way.
On the other hand, a Christian worldview must consider several important concepts, such as God, reality, knowledge, morality, humankind, and the labels or names that are attached to classifications of things in its worldview. We will examine several of these briefly.
God is not an instinctive reaction to what we cannot see or understand. But what do we believe about his nature, his existence, his-preexistence? And how does this affect our lifestyle and how we value things? Do we confuse God with his creation? We can enjoy creation because it is part of what God has done, but we are not to worship it.
In our view of God, what do the terms holiness, justice, love, grace, trinity, incarnation, etc. mean to us? The basic and fundamental proposition from which concepts like these arise is that God has certain characteristics. We can know who He is and why He exists because of what is recorded in the Scriptures. Our worldview about God is not formulated in a vacuum. It has not been simply left to our imagination. We are told who God is in the Scriptures and we interpret causation on the basis of His presence in our lives and in the universe.
Reality. Do things exist and, further, how do we know? Is there purpose in the universe, or are we the subjects of an impersonal and mechanistic set of forces, put into operation by chance? Can there be any reality prior to creation other than God? Is creation ordered to reflect divine activities or was it random, circumstantial and imaginary? As Christians, we reject and avoid the postmodern conclusion that there is no reality other than what we ourselves create. For a Christian, reality exists because God exists.
Knowledge. Why do we assume that there is reason and common sense? Can there be truth apart from what God reveals? That is, can anyone discover truth that stands apart from what God reveals? And, further, what is essential, in terms of knowledge, for Christians to hold about our revelation from God? Why is it that some knowledge appears to be innate, that is it does not arise from the senses, but is somehow intuitive (or in animals, instinctive)? Perhaps God is an innate concept in the human mind from birth, subject to the same kind of imagination, reasoning and influences as our other thoughts. If not, why do we ask such questions as, Who am I? Why am I here?;or, Who/ What is in control? Knowledge is personally detected in our search for meaning and reality, both found in God.
Morality. Why are some actions considered as right and others as wrong? Why is there a universal principle that considers acts like murder to be morally wrong? What place does moral or cultural relativism play in the picture? Are there universal moral laws? What about specific moral applications of moral rules? Are these principles universal, even if somewhat vague? Are they instinctive? Why does love seem more appealing than lust in a system of ethics? We note that in situational ethics love may lie, steal, fornicate, blaspheme, or do whatever is convenient and satisfactory at the moment. But then why is the rider added, “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone”? It appears that love, in and of itself, is insufficient to provide moral guidance. It requires specification in terms of rules and principles and it is God alone who provides a model of love that is universal in application and scope.
Humans. Are we free to do what we wish or is life, or at least some parts of it, in some sense, determined for us? What are the views that people hold on death and existence? Why is punishment necessary? Pascal wrote that “[man] is the glory and the rubbish of the universe,” suggesting that he could at least tell the difference. Christians claim that people’s actions and motives can only be understood in terms of the doctrine of sin and that, apart from God, each human is a “divided self.” Our sinful appetite is never satisfied. Realizing this, we are driven, in the words of Kierkegaard, into the arms of the Father. We are truly human when we acknowledge the existence of God.
As Christians we have experienced changes in our conceptual system. Generally conversion means that an old way has been discarded and a new direction has been taken. We take on a different view of God, of truth, morality, our fellow human beings, even the natural world around us. We attempt to renounce our idols and are aware that all aspects of life have their proper place. We attempt to respond to God’s norms, to sacrifice for the common good. We begin to see worldview categories, such as economics, in terms of stewardship responsibilities. We also come to see how individualism promotes greed, self-interest, and the exploitation of other people.
A Biblical worldview therefore is based on God’s creation, indeed we must have a covenant with it. In the background of creation is God, with his images ruling over the earth. We acknowledge the fall has affected these images and we understand and have experienced how idols usurp God’s place. Ultimately, we can only become reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.
On the academic front, Christians acknowledge that university studies are taking place in a declining culture, without absolutes, proudly proclaimed as post-modernism. Theories that were developed in contexts for particular disciplines are rejected as unnecessary and as having rigid autonomy. We accept philosophical paradigms that have influenced the academic disciples as having validity, but must recognize them as only a shadow of the truth of God. As Walsh and Middleton say (1984.179) “… all cultural life consists of fallible instances of God’s law.” Christians are to reject natural determinism and so-called scientific explanation of our existence and place God at the apex of all our reasoning and thinking.
Contrasting Two Worldviews
It is obvious that my own worldview as a Christian is incompatible with the evolutionary worldview, at least as I have represented it in the chart below. Don’t scientists “believe” in chance? Don’t they have complete “faith” in something that is supposed to be random and that they can understand only in retrospect. And yet the fully committed evolutionist claims that he cannot believe in a God who allows pain and suffering, despite their own belief that – given time and chance – anything can occur, including pain and suffering. And when pain does occurs, Evolution is not to blame, God is somehow to blame and therefore not to be believed. A curious argument against God, isn’t it? Or have I misunderstood their argument against God on the basis of pain and suffering? The following table provides a summary of my thesis:
|Always existed||Postulated less than 200 years ago|
|Reveals Himself||Revealed by artifacts and bones|
|The Living Word||The Academia|
|The Living Stone||Dead strata|
|Purpose is to know and enjoy Him||Purpose is survival|
|The Creator||The circumstance|
|Sovereign will||Chance and Fate|
|Moral law||Social acceptance|
|Became human||Became animal|
|Requires obedience||Requires interpretation|
|Created man||A system evolved|
|This is why…||This is what…|
|This is when||This, it seems|
|God speaks, knows||Evolution argues, postulates|
|Requires faith||Requires experimentation|
|We believe||We can never be sure|
|Satisfies mind and soul||There is no soul|
|Heart, mind, and soul||Intellect, emotion, the spirit of the age|
|Life ever after||Nothing hereafter|
|Fearfully and wonderfully made||Environmentally adapted to chance stimuli|
|Reveals himself||Discovers itself|
|Looks forward||Looks backward|
|A revelation||A proclamation|
|Angels and prophets||Scholars and scientists|
|Body of Christ||Body of Academia|
|Jesus and the prophets||Darwin and his academic disciples|
Information for this essay comes from a variety of books that implicate or discuss worldview from both a Christian and secular perspectives. In particular, note:
Bickerton, Derik. 1981. Roots of language. Ann Arbor: Karoma Publishers.
Chomsky, Noam. 1975. Reflections on language. New York: Pantheon Books.
Franklin, Karl J., ed. 1987. Current concerns of anthropologists and missionaries.Dallas: The InternationalMuseum of Cultures.
Foley, William A. 1986. The Papuan languages of New Guinea. Cambridge University Press.
Gleiser, Marcelo. 2014. The island of knowledge: The limits of science and the search for meaning. New York: Basic Books.
Grunlan, Stepehen A. & Marvin K. Mayers. 1988. Cultural anthropology: a Christian perspective,2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan
Headland, Thomas N. 1996. “Postmodernism and reason in the balance.” Notes on Anthropology 21.7-13.
Nash, Ronald N.1992. Worldviews in conflict: choosing Christianity in a world of ideas. Zondervan.
Pinker, Steven. 1994. The language instinct: How the mind creates language. NY: Williams, Morrow and Company, Inc.
Ross, Malcolm. 2005. Pronouns as a preliminary diagnostic for grouping Papuan languages, pp. 15-65. In Pawley, Andrew and others. Papuan Pasts: Cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples. Pacific Linguistics. Australian National University.
Stipe, Claude E. 1987. “Criticisms of Missionaries: Anthropological vs. World Views.” In K. Franklin, ed., pp. 55-66.
Walsh, Brian J. and J. Richard Middleton. 1984. The transforming vision: Shaping a Christian world view. InterVarsity Press. .
Wurm, S. A. 1982. Papuan languages of Oceania. Tübingen: Gunter Narr.
* First drafted in December 2003, then added to and edited several times since. Most recently I read Gleiser 2014, who in Part III (Mind and Meaning) discusses the incompleteness of the scientific paradigm.
 Pinker sees no need for a deity or a soul. He has written many books and “sees language as unique to humans, evolved to solve the specific problem of communication among social hunter-gatherers. He argues that it is as much an instinct as specialized adaptative behavior in other species, such as a spider‘s web-weaving or a beaver‘s dam-building.” See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Pinker (accessed May 14, 2015) for more details on his life and beliefs.
 Foley, in his map showing the location of language families in New Guinea (pp. 230-31) lists 26 language families, but speaks of 60 elsewhere in his book (p.213). Wurm (1982:1) is less conservative, combining 507 Papuan languages into one large group and ending up with 3 major and 5 minor distinct groups—except for 8 isolates. He uses various descriptive terms to suggest relationships between languages and groups of languages, such as Stock, Family, Family-level Isolate, Stock-level Family, Subphylum-level Super-stock, Subphylum-level Stock and Sub-phylum-level Isolate. Percentage figures that he gives denote lexical relationships, often based upon small samples. Ross (2005) arrives at a much lesser number of language families for PNG, based upon the comparison of pronoun sets.
 See Nash (1992, chapter 3) for comments on these categories.
 Gleiser (2014), following others, explores the possibility that we are all living in an imaginary simulation.