Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-99c86f546-66nw2 Total loading time: 0.351 Render date: 2021-11-29T09:45:11.064Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

9 - From protolanguage to language

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 November 2012

April McMahon
Affiliation:
Aberystwyth University
Robert McMahon
Affiliation:
Aberystwyth University
Get access

Summary

Overview

In the last chapter, we derived the notion of the ‘language-ready brain’, which Arbib (2005b: 22) saw as providing ‘the capacity to acquire and use language’, and supporting ‘basic forms of gestural and vocal communication … but not … rich syntax and compositional semantics’. In this chapter, we shall ask how clearly we can define and describe the product of that language-ready brain, which we might call protolanguage. Furthermore, once protolanguage had developed, how did it subsequently become more complex, to give us the variation and structure characteristic of modern human languages? These questions of structural complexity connect to issues of motivation as well as mechanism. We have argued for the admissibility of arguments based on natural selection in the evolution of the capacity for language; but should this extend to accepting adaptive accounts of the subsequent increase in linguistic complexity? Invoking natural selection for genetic specification of the brain or physical systems controlling language in general is one thing, but claiming direct genetic control of individual constructions or concrete elements of a language would be something else again. On the other hand, if natural selection is not involved in the transition from protolanguage to language, then what does explain that development? Are the arguments about motivations for enhanced structure in language affected or shaped by the nature of protolanguage itself? And if so, how confident can we be in our assertions about protolanguage and hence about the mechanisms for increasing linguistic complexity? Even if we were to conclude that learning rather than evolution is the major factor shaping the development of modern languages, which would therefore fall within the domain of cultural rather than biological evolution, is there any capacity for feedback from those learning mechanisms to the genetic level, or are these completely insulated from one another? Indeed, is it reasonable to distinguish between biological and cultural evolution at all?

Type
Chapter
Information
Evolutionary Linguistics , pp. 219 - 266
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2012

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)
1
Cited by

Send book to Kindle

To send this book to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Send book to Dropbox

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×