The Interactional Instinct: The Evolution and Acquisition of Language

The Interactional Instinct: The Evolution and Acquisition of Language

The Interactional Instinct: The Evolution and Acquisition of Language

The Interactional Instinct: The Evolution and Acquisition of Language

Synopsis

The Interactional Instinct explores the evolution of language from the theoretical view that language could have emerged without a biologically instantiated Universal Grammar. In the first part of the book, the authors speculate that a hominid group with a lexicon of about 600 words couldcombine these items to make larger meanings. Combinations that are successfully produced, comprehended, and learned become part of the language. Any combination that is incompatible with human mental capacities is abandoned. The authors argue for the emergence of language structure throughinteraction constrained by human psychology and physiology.In the second part of the book, the authors argue that language acquisition is based on an "interactional instinct" that emotionally entrains the infant on caregivers. This relationship provides children with a motivational and attentional mechanism that ensures their acquisition of language. Inadult second language acquisition, the interactional instinct is no longer operating, but in some individuals with sufficient aptitude and motivation, successful second-language acquisition can be achieved.The Interactional Instinct presents a theory of language based on linguistic, evolutionary, and biological evidence indicating that language is a culturally inherited artifact that requires no a priori hard wiring of linguistic knowledge.

Excerpt

This book offers a perspective on language acquisition based on evolutionary biology and neurobiology. We argue here that language is a cultural artifact that emerges as a complex adaptive system from the verbal interaction among humans. We see the ubiquity of language acquisition among children generation after generation as the product of an interactional instinct that, as Tomasello (2003) indicates, is based on an innate drive to communicate with and become like conspecifics.

Almost 50 years ago, generative linguistics offered an evolutionary biological and neurobiological account of language: A mutation in hominid DNA led to the neural instantiation of “universal grammar” (UG), which provided humans with an a priori knowledge of the structure of language. In the early 1960s, when generative linguistics was developing, we did not know enough about genes, evolution, or the brain to think about language in biological terms. So the theory held. However, in the last 20 years, beginning in the mid-1980s, our knowledge of genetics, evolutionary biology, and neurobiology has exploded. In biological investigations of language during this period, we have had no success in finding a neural substrate that would instantiate UG. Nor has it been possible to conceive of a credible evolutionary scenario for the genetic basis of UG. Therefore, it may be time to consider other views of language. In this book, we use complex adaptive systems theory and the neurobiology of affiliation to understand how language evolved and how it is acquired without postulating innate knowledge of grammar.

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