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Why Only Us: Language and Evolution (MIT…
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Why Only Us: Language and Evolution (MIT Press)

by Robert C. Berwick

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Informed ruminations on the biological evolution of the human language capacity, the core of which, according to the latter-day Chomskyan paradigm known as the Minimalist Program, consists of a simple Merge operation for building up arbitrarily complex conceptual structures from simpler ones. The authors posit that language evolved primarily as an instrument not of communication but of internal thought, and that the crucial event was a small change in the brain "wiring" of African humans living ~80,000 years ago.
  fpagan | Aug 25, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0262034247, Hardcover)

We are born crying, but those cries signal the first stirring of language. Within a year or so, infants master the sound system of their language; a few years after that, they are engaging in conversations. This remarkable, species-specific ability to acquire any human language -- "the language faculty" -- raises important biological questions about language, including how it has evolved. This book by two distinguished scholars -- a computer scientist and a linguist -- addresses the enduring question of the evolution of language.

Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky explain that until recently the evolutionary question could not be properly posed, because we did not have a clear idea of how to define "language" and therefore what it was that had evolved. But since the Minimalist Program, developed by Chomsky and others, we know the key ingredients of language and can put together an account of the evolution of human language and what distinguishes us from all other animals.

Berwick and Chomsky discuss the biolinguistic perspective on language, which views language as a particular object of the biological world; the computational efficiency of language as a system of thought and understanding; the tension between Darwin's idea of gradual change and our contemporary understanding about evolutionary change and language; and evidence from nonhuman animals, in particular vocal learning in songbirds.

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 01 Mar 2016 14:04:28 -0500)

"We are born crying, but those cries signal the first stirring of language. Within a year or so, infants master the sound system of their language; a few years after that, they are engaging in conversations. This remarkable, species-specific ability to acquire any human language--'the language faculty'--raises important biological questions about language, including how it has evolved. This book by two distinguished scholars--a computer scientist and a linguist--addresses the enduring question of the evolution of language. Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky explain that until recently the evolutionary question could not be properly posed, because we did not have a clear idea of how to define 'language' and therefore what it was that had evolved. But since the Minimalist Program, developed by Chomsky and others, we know the key ingredients of language and can put together an account of the evolution of human language and what distinguishes us from all other animals. Berwick and Chomsky discuss the biolinguistic perspective on language, which views language as a particular object of the biological world; the computational efficiency of language as a system of thought and understanding; the tension between Darwin's idea of gradual change and our contemporary understanding about evolutionary change and language; and evidence from nonhuman animals, in particular vocal learning in songbirds"--MIT CogNet.… (more)

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