Linguistics and Evolution: A Developmental Approach

Evolutionary linguistics – an approach to language study that takes into account our origins and development as a species – has rapidly developed in recent years. Informed by the latest findings in evolutionary theory, this book sets language within the context of human biology and development, taking ideas from fields such as psychology, neurology, biology, anthropology, genetics and cognitive science.

By factoring an evolutionary and developmental perspective into the theoretical framework, the author replaces old questions – such as ‘what is linguistics and evolution a developmental approachlanguage?’ – with new questions, such as ‘how do living beings become ‘languaging’ living beings?’

Linguistics and Evolution offers readers the first rethinking of an introductory approach to linguistics since Leonard Bloomfield’s 1933 Language. It will be of significant interest to advanced students and researchers in all subfields of linguistics, and the related fields of biology, anthropology, cognitive science and psychology.

“This volume fulfils a most needed gap in linguistics and has a most important and controversial message for future linguists. I would definitely recommend it as required reading in an advanced linguistics course.”

–Professor Yishai Tobin, Ben-Gurion Univerisity of the Negev

“…breaks the existing deadlock in linguistic theory and suggests an approach that will be in the center of debates for years to come. Highly informative and stimulating reading.”

–Bernard H. Bichakjian, Professor Emeritus of Radboud University, author of Language in a Darwinian Perspective

Introduction to Linguistics and Evolution

For many years I taught a standard undergraduate Introduction to Linguistics, each year trying out one of the many textbooks currently available on the market.

However, the longer I taught, the less happy I became with the fact that in a standard introductory textbook students encounter a body that is all cut up. In the chapter on speech production, the lungs, the larynx, and the oral and nasal cavities are discussed and represented, while the evolutionary adaptation of respiration to speech may or may not be addressed.

The brain usually has its own chapter and is always pictured as a disembodied organ. The speech-gesture circuit has no place, and the hands only come into play if the topic is American Sign Language.

The larynx often takes another turn on stage in the chapter on language acquisition given that babbling establishes connections between the larynx and the prefrontal cortex. The body finds itself in a context only in the chapter on pragmatics. And that chapter on pragmatics is usually at odds with the theoretical orientation of the chapter on syntax.

So, by the end of an introductory course, students will have typically encountered a disembodied brain, a dismembered body mostly disembedded from context, along with a broken understanding of the very subject matter of linguistics. What’s more, the students might not even be aware of all these fractures.

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