Some simple evo devo theses: How true might they be for language?

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171 Scopus citations


Study of evolution of some system is feasible only to the extent that its nature is understood. That seems close to truism. One could hardly investigate the evolution of the eye or of insect navigation knowing only that the eye is an “organ of sight” and that navigational skills are a way to return home. The same truism holds for inquiry into the evolution of human language – henceforth simply language. Accordingly, a sensible approach is to begin with properties of language that are understood with some confidence and seek to determine how they may have evolved, temporarily putting to the side others that are more poorly understood and the additional problems they might pose. I will try to outline such a course, keeping to a sketch of general directions, hoping at least to sort out various elements of the puzzle and to indicate how they might be addressed – with limited prospects for success, in the judgment of one highly credible commentator. I will also mention some analogies between “the Evo Devo revolution” in biology and ideas that have been lurking in the background of “biolinguistics” since its origins about half a century ago, and that have been pursued more intensively in recent years. The analogies have been suggestive in the past, and might prove to be more than that in the years ahead.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Evolution of Human Language
Subtitle of host publicationBiolinguistic Perspectives
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780511817755
ISBN (Print)9780521516457
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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