Universal Grammar (UG) is intended to specify the most general principles of human language. It must provide an explanation for the extraordinary fact that a Japanese child raised in Paris will acquire French, but not Japanese, and a French child raised in Tokyo, Japanese, but not French. Either child may acquire both French and Japanese, of course, but neither will fail to acquire French or Japanese. Linguists and philosophers may have known this in antiquity; they did not say so with any great conviction, and they may not have said so at all. It was left to Chomsky to remark with the full force of his genius that every human language can be acquired by any human being. Universal Grammar, Chomsky concluded, must be a species-specific characteristic of the human race, biologically encoded, genetically transmitted.

The quote comes right out of an article written by David Berlinski and Juan Uriagereka. Never heard of any of them.

Reading that article, I remembered the reason for which I tend to avoid modern philosophers. Or linguists. Hard to discern which is which, anyway…

Let me return to the quote itself.
“An explanation for the extraordinary fact that a Japanese child raised in Paris will acquire French, but not Japanese, and a French child raised in Tokyo, Japanese”.
Read this to anybody who isn’t familiar with the notion of ‘Chomsky’. You’ll get a laugh and a troubled look. ‘What’s so extraordinary here?!? People will always learn whatever language is spoken around them… but only if they come in contact with the ‘exterior’ world!’

Home-school those Japanese/French children in Paris/Tokyo while preventing them from getting in touch with anybody else but their immediate family/trainers and they’ll learn only whatever language(s) their trainers/family will have chosen for them.

As an aside, what does Chomsky mean by ‘French’ and or ‘Japanese’?
‘Genetically’ French/Japanese? What if one parent is French/Japanese and the other German/Korean? What will the child be? Like the father or like the mother?
‘Culturally’ Japanese/French? According to their ‘mother’ tongue?!?
Forget it…

“Universal Grammar, Chomsky concluded, must be a species-specific characteristic of the human race, biologically encoded, genetically transmitted”.

‘Species specific characteristic of the human race’… told you these guys have a lot of humor… or, maybe, they cannot make up their minds…
What are we, humans?!? A species or a race?

OK, let me move forward.
Hidden underneath all this ado, there is a piece/gem of ‘harsh’ reality.
The simple fact that if/when we want to, we are able to understand each-other. To communicate with each-other. To exchange ideas. To trade meaning.
And there is indeed something species-specific about this ability of ours. Nobody else has it… according to our present knowledge about the world, anyway.

‘Nobody else has it’… yeah, right… as if you hadn’t watched, time and time again, two dogs ‘greeting’ each-other in the park.
OK, those dogs were interacting in highly unnatural circumstances. Walked by people, in a people infested environment …
Fact is that all animals have ‘procedures’ for interacting with other animals. Belonging to the same species or belonging to other species. Some of the procedures being inbred while others had been acquired trough learning or training.
Cats, for instance, have an inbred ‘procedure’ for chasing anything which might become a prey but need to be taught by their mothers how to finish the chase. How to kill that prey.
And yes, cats do have a species-specific, biologically encoded and genetically transmitted characteristic which allows them to kill and eat their prey. Or to play with the people who take care of them. They kill and eat using their claws and teeth while they play using their brain. OK, the brain also contributes during the chase… don’t be a nit-pick.

Let me summarize.
So cats have a specific set of tools, teeth and claws, which are ‘coordinated’ by a brain which needs to be taught in order to become fully functional.
And the overall ‘functioning’ of any given cat depends simultaneously on how well their organism works AND the quality of the learning they have been able to amass.

Then where’s the difference between humans and cats?
What is so species-specific in our ability to interact with the world?

I’m exaggerating, of course. We are able to understand each-other far deeper than the other great-apes, our cousins. There is something species-specific in all this.
But only in ‘depth’, not in ‘nature’.
We’ve been able to teach chimps to write. And cats to play with strings instead of catching mice. All three of us ‘share’ the more or less same kind of brain and surprisingly similar anatomies.

What really sets us apart is our learned ability to watch ourselves while doing something. To observe ourselves observing, as Maturana puts it.
And our ability, learned again, to formulate information in a transmittable form. To ‘build’ highly specific messages using rather ‘fungible’ building blocks and in such a manner that those messages might be transmitted from one individual to another. From one generation to another, even.
To make good use of the Universal Grammar noticed by Chomsky.

Can any of this be construed as species-specific? Of course. Without the huge brain we’ve got – or without the ability to articulate sounds, we most likely wouldn’t have been able to reach this stage of our evolution.
But to reduce everything to mere biology … I’m afraid that would be too simplistic.

Consciousness – or self-awareness, opens up huge evolutionary venues. Powered by our very ability to communicate so intensely. To use ‘Universal Grammar’, even without being aware of its existence.
But since both self-awareness and talking depends upon learning them from/with the others… biology is not enough. Necessary, indeed, but not enough.

Not by a long shot.