The emergence of language, from a biolinguistic point of view

Cedric Boeckx

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 emergence of language, from a biolinguistic point of view

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Linguistics
  • Language Evolution
  • Cognitive Linguistics


Show Summary Details


Biolinguistics is a fairly broad research program that allow for the exploration of many avenues of research, including the formalist, functionalist, and nativist, and it insists on the uniqueness of the language faculty or alternatively, nativist about general (human) cognition, but not about language per se. It is assumed that the language faculty arose in Homo sapiens, and fairly recently, that is, within the last 200,000 years. The recent emergence of the language faculty is most compatible with the idea that at most one or two evolutionary innovations, combined with the cognitive resources available before the emergence of language, delivers the linguistic capacity much as it is known today. Biolinguists, especially those of a minimalist persuasion, have explored the possibility that some of the properties of language faculty may have emerged spontaneously, by the sheer force of biophysics. The type of principles by which minimalists seek to reanalyze the data captured by previous models are, quite plausibly, reflexes of computational laws that go well beyond the linguistic domain. All the linguistic models, no matter how minimalist, rely on the existence of lexical items. Numerous comparative studies in psychology reveal that mature linguistic creatures transcend many cognitive limits seen in animals and prelinguistic infants. Such limits are the signature limits of core knowledge systems, which correspond to primitive knowledge modules. Such systems suffer from informational encapsulation and quickly reach combinatorial limits.

Keywords: biolinguistics; psychology; language faculty; linguistic models; human cognition

Article.  4581 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution ; Cognitive Linguistics

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.