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Why Only UsLanguage and Evolution$
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Robert C. Berwick and Noam Chomsky

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780262034241

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262034241.001.0001

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Why Now?

Why Now?

(p.1) 1 Why Now?
Why Only Us

Robert C. Berwick

Noam Chomsky

The MIT Press

This chapter explains that the book is a collection of essays that address the evolution of language. It examines the tension between Darwinian infinitesimal evolutionary change and continuity, with the goal of resolving it. It considers Charles Darwin's view that language is closely associated with thought, what the paleoneurologist Harry Jerison calls an “internal mental tool,” and provides empirical linguistic support for this position. It also explores three key properties of human language syntactic structure, all captured by minimalist system assumptions: human language syntax is hierarchical, and is blind to considerations of linear order, with linear ordering constraints reserved for externalization; the particular hierarchical structures associated with sentences affects their interpretation; and there is no upper bound on the depth of relevant hierarchical structure. The book concludes by assessing the biological basis for vocal learning from an evolutionary perspective. In the remainder of this chapter, contemporary evolutionary theory and theories about the evolution of language are discussed, along with vocal learning and production, as mediated by the sensorimotor interface, and genomics.

Keywords:   evolution, evolutionary change, Charles Darwin, human language, syntax, externalization, hierarchical structure, vocal learning, evolutionary theory, genomics

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