Linguistics and Evolution. A Developmental Approach
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. Read More.