The origins of syntactic language

Derek Bickerton

in The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 The origins of syntactic language

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  • Linguistics
  • Language Evolution
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology


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The basic processes of syntax are categorized into four main categories. These categories include a process for assembling words into hierarchical structures, processes for determining the boundaries of segments within such structures, and processes for moving segments within such structures and lastly, processes for determining the reference of elements that are not phonetically expressed. The syntax characterizes all languages, whether signed or spoken, in a highly developed form but it is entirely absent both from the productions of “language-trained” animals and the natural communication systems of other species. Children first acquire nouns, then a few verbs, and only later begin to add other word classes. The acquisition of grammatical items follows some time after the emergence of recognizable syntactic structures, even if those structures do not normally begin to appear until age two or thereabouts, and the earliest stages of development constitute an example of protolanguage, rather than full human language. The emergence of these structures is typically quite rapid with several types of both simple and complex sentence appearing within a few weeks. Creole languages are really a special case of child language development, representing what the language faculty produces when structured input is severely reduced.

Keywords: syntax; protolanguage; human language; creole languages; child language

Article.  5400 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

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