Natural selection‐itis

David Lightfoot

in The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199541119
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Natural selection‐itis

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This article explains the emergence of the language faculty over the years. The organisms are complex and integrated so any adaptive change must automatically spin off structural by-products. Some properties are not selected for and are not accidental by-products, but they emerge because of deep, physical principles that affect much of life. They reflect limits on the kinds of things that evolution can make, and they arise through the interaction of physical principles. Physical laws describe the limits to evolutionary change, in the same way that principles of universal grammar (UG) prescribe the limits to grammatical change at the phenotypical level. The multifaceted approach to the evolution of the language faculty differs from the approach of people whom Gould called singularists. Singularists invoke just one factor to explain evolutionary development that is natural selection. The result of natural selection is adaptation, the shaping of an organism's form, function, and behavior to achieve enhanced reproductive success. Singularists suggest that selective forces shaped individual components of UG, such as the Subjacency Condition, which permits elements to move only locally. Modern Panglossians show that the Subjacency Condition constrains speakers to produce forms that can be understood in accordance with an individual's apparent parsing capacity.

Keywords: phenotypical level; universal grammar; language faculty; natural selection; adaptation

Article.  1743 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution ; Cognitive Linguistics

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