Introduction to Part V: Language change, creation, and transmission in modern humans

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 V: Language change, creation, and transmission in modern humans

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  • Linguistics
  • Language Evolution
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics


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This article covers the processes of (modern) language creation and change, and the roles played in language evolution by socio/cultural transmission. Bernd Heine and Tania Kuteva report on the uses of well-known processes at work in observable language change to reconstruct a plausible scenario for the development of the earliest languages. Joan Bybee reports on the concept of grammaticalization that refers to a bundle of processes causing diachronic change that are known to occur in all languages. Grammaticalization is posited as a critical driving force in the evolution of language, and grammaticalization theory gives us a scientific tool for reconstructing earlier linguistic states. Paul Roberge argues against the prevailing view concerning the role of child learners in language change in connection with the formation of creoles. He argues that native acquisition of pidgins is not necessary to form creoles, which are full linguistic systems. Roberge compares the factors leading to the evolution of full language from protolanguage with the factors involved in the formation of pidgins and creoles. Susan Goldin-Meadow reports on the theme of language creation. She explores the role of the manual modality when used alongside speech, and then investigates what changes occur when this modality fulfils all the functions of language, without speech. Sign languages are fully-fledged languages, but more primitive gestural communication occurs in homesign systems.

Keywords: grammaticalization; modern language; creoles; gestural communication; homesign systems; protolanguage

Article.  2650 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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