Linguistic Evolution through Language Acquisition

Linguistic Evolution through Language Acquisition

Linguistic Evolution through Language Acquisition

Linguistic Evolution through Language Acquisition

Synopsis

This groundbreaking study of how children acquire language and the effects on language change over the generations draws on a wide range of examples. The book covers specific syntactic universals and the nature of syntactic change. It reviews the language-learning mechanisms required to acquire an existing linguistic system (accurately and to impose further structure on an emerging system) and the evolution of language(s) in relation to this learning mechanism.

Excerpt

Taking an evolutionary perspective on the origins and development of human language, and on linguistic variation and change, is becoming more and more common, as the papers in Hurford et al.(1998) attest. The term 'evolution' now crops up regularly in work emerging from the broadly generative tradition in linguistic theory (e.g. Jackendoff, 1997; Steedman, 2000). The latter development is probably a more or less direct consequence of several influential attempts to reconcile Chomskyan nativism with evolutionary theory, primarily in terms of a gradualist and adaptionist account of the origins and development of the language faculty (e.g. Hurford, 1989; Newmeyer, 1991; Pinker and Bloom, 1990). However, most of the contributions to this book owe more to the complementary but very different insight (e.g. Hurford, 1987, 1999) that not only the language faculty per se, but also the origins and subsequent development of languages themselves can be fruitfully addressed within the framework of evolutionary theory. Under this view, languages are evolving, not metaphorically but literally, via cultural rather than biological transmission on a historical rather than genetic timescale. This represents a very distinct and quite narrow theme within the broader program of integrating linguistic theory and evolutionary theory, and it is this theme which is primarily addressed by the contributors to this volume.

Evolutionary ideas have had a rather checkered history within linguistic theory despite their close mutual influence in the nineteenth century. McMahon (1994:ch12) provides a brief account of this history and also discusses linguistic work influenced by evolutionary theory during the . . .

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