The evolutionary relevance of more and less complex forms of language

Andrew Carstairs‐McCarthy

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 evolutionary relevance of more and less complex forms of language

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This article deals with the evolution of natural languages and examines artificial or imaginary languages that supply material for evolutionary-linguistic thought-experiments. The term “creole” has been used in a variety of ways. One usage links its definition to that of “pidgin”. A pidgin language has been defined as a rudimentary language even if to some degree it is an institutionalized form of language used between speakers whose mother tongues are mutually incomprehensible. A creole is then a pidgin that has acquired native speakers such as children surrounded by adults that belong to different speech communities and therefore talk to each other most of the time in pidgin. One of the group of researchers compared human cognitive and communicative capacities with those of animals. They attempted to identify what is contained in the “faculty of language in the narrow sense” (FLN), that is, those characteristics or capacities that are both peculiar to humans and peculiar to language. They suggest that the FLN may turn out to be limited to a sole characteristic, namely recursion. The vocabulary of one of the languages, monocategoric, contains two classes of items that include “simple expressions”, such as snake, you, John, Mary, and story, and “operators”. Operators may be one-place, two-place, three-place or in principle n-place for any n > 0. A well-formed “expression” in monocategoric is any simple expression or any complex expression formed from one or more other expressions (whether simple or complex) followed by an appropriate operator.

Keywords: monocategoric language; faculty of language in the narrow sense; creole; imaginary languages; isolating-monocategorial-associational langauage

Article.  3645 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution

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