Introduction to Part IV: Launching language: the development of a linguistic species

Maggie Tallerman and Kathleen R. Gibson

in The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

Introduction to Part IV: Launching language: the development of a linguistic species

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  • Linguistics
  • Language Evolution
  • Cognitive Linguistics



This article deals with the different views of researchers on the central properties to be accounted for in language evolution. Stephen Anderson presents certain structural regularities become established in the world's languages, including universal properties such as structure dependence. Anderson argues that there is no need to assume a dichotomy between a genetically determined language faculty and a language faculty shaped by external factors, such as functional pressures and the effects of grammaticalization. The language faculty supports the learning of specific kinds of linguistic systems, and it would not be at all surprising if natural selection favored those who were able to acquire language most efficiently. Grammars that are most easily learned will be the ones that are acquired, because generations of better learners also shaped grammars to be more learnable. James Hurford, Michael Corballis, Stevan Harnad, Terrence Deacon, and Robbins Burling investigate what cognitive capacities must have evolved before the evolution of any kind of language. These capacities include the development of meaning (semantics and pragmatics), the origins of grounded symbols, and the ability to learn and store words. Hurford argues that other animals possess at least proto-conceptual categories, which form the basis for conceptual meaning. Animals exhibit planning abilities, have mental representations of territory, and can make calculations based on their knowledge, such as transitive inference.

Keywords: language evolution; language faculty; grammaticalization; transitive inference; symbolic meaning

Article.  3163 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution ; Cognitive Linguistics

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