The Adaptive Approach to Grammar

Tom Givón

in The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Analysis

Published in print December 2009 | ISBN: 9780199544004
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 The Adaptive Approach to Grammar

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  • Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology
  • Pragmatics


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Language is one of the defining characteristics of homo sapiens. It is deployed in a wide range of adaptive contexts: social interaction, cultural transmission, education, literature, theatre, music, humour and play, love and war. Of this rich array of useful applications, two core adaptive functions make all the rest possible: (i) mental representation; and (ii) the communication of information. This chapter discusses the following: human language as a combinatorial system; three major developmental trends that have jointly fashioned the way languages are now: evolution, ontogenesis, and diachrony; typological diversity and language universals; innateness and language acquisition; language and the brain; the evolution of grammar; and theoretical perspective and grammatical description.

Keywords: human language; mental representation; communication; language universals; language acquisition

Article.  8225 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology ; Pragmatics

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