Why did language evolve?

Some keys to understanding Why Only Us Why only us (Berwick & Chomsky 2016) was published at a time of great development in research on language evolution (see Wacewicz et al. in press for a detailed review of the main contributions of the last decade). The book proposes a theory of the evolution of language that … Continue reading Why did language evolve?

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Why language change is not language evolution

In English, language evolution presents an “unfortunate ambiguity” (in terms of James Hurford) due to the fact that, unlike what happens in French (and many other languages), the same word is used to designate the languages spoken by people (French langue) and the capacity of language as such (French langage). Thus, in one of the senses, language evolution refers to the … Continue reading Why language change is not language evolution

The Generative Grammar of the Immune System

In times of confinement due to SARS-CoV-2 virus, it is inevitable to dedicate some hopeful thoughts to the immune system. And it also seems like a good time to use our thoughts about the immune system (and its surprising effectiveness in fighting pathogens) to understand a little better the equally surprising efficiency with which our … Continue reading The Generative Grammar of the Immune System

On Nature and Nurture in Human Language

It is commonly accepted that language has both a natural and a cultural dimension. However, the main controversies in current linguistic theory have to do with the relative weight given to nature and nurture in the characterisation of human language. Here I suggest an alternative—and conciliatory—strategy to address the delimitation between language natural and cultural … Continue reading On Nature and Nurture in Human Language

Is Universal Grammar ready for retirement?

Each year the scientific magazine Edge publishes a question for the scientific community. In 2014 this question was: What scientific idea is ready for retirement? Not surprisingly, one of the responses (by Benjamin Berger) proposed the Chomskyan notion of Universal Grammar (UG); other answers included the concept of race, Moore’s law, that there is no reality in the quantum world, and … Continue reading Is Universal Grammar ready for retirement?

On language innate building blocks: An open letter to Martin Haspelmath

Dear Martin: These days I have been reading some of your recent contributions: comments on Facebook and Twitter, several blogposts and interviews from your blog (dlc.hypotheses.org), including one that you kindly made with me (dlc.hypotheses.org/1595), and a recent paper (Haspelmath 2020). In these contributions you evaluate the scientific adequacy of Generative Grammar (GG), especially in … Continue reading On language innate building blocks: An open letter to Martin Haspelmath

On Unity and Diversity in Human Language

A few years ago, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian organized an exhibition in California, in homage to the so-called code talkers. The expression code talkers refers to a small group of mainly Navajo Native Americans who worked for the US Army during the Second World War to codify its messages. In 1943, when the … Continue reading On Unity and Diversity in Human Language

On the incompleteness of syntax

Chomsky’s program for linguistics It is no coincidence that Chomsky’s two first published books (Syntactic Structures and Aspects of the Theory of Syntax) both allude to syntax in the title. He has recently pointed out that the essential basis of his approach to language (in addition to the naturalistic approach) is that each language “makes available … Continue reading On the incompleteness of syntax

Two types of linguistic theory, two conceptions of language

Yang’s (2016) Tolerance Principle describes with incredible precision how many exceptions the mechanisms of child language acquisition can tolerate to induce a productive rule, and, as I pointed out in a previous post, it is a notable advance in the long-standing controversy as to the amount of data necessary for the acquisition of language. This … Continue reading Two types of linguistic theory, two conceptions of language