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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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Biolinguistics Evolving

Biolinguistics Evolving

(p.53) 2 Biolinguistics Evolving
Why Only Us

Robert C. Berwick

Noam Chomsky

The MIT Press

This chapter considers the biolinguistic perspective on human language. From the biolinguistic perspective, we can think of language as an “organ of the body,” comparable with the visual or digestive or immune systems. In this sense, language can be regarded as a mental organ, where the term mental simply refers to certain aspects of the world, to be studied in the same way as chemical, optical, electrical, and other aspects. This chapter tackles two puzzling questions about language: First, why are there any languages at all, evidently unique to the human lineage—what evolutionary biologists call an “autapomorphy”? Second, why are there so many languages? To answer these questions, the chapter explores the relation of language to the sensorimotor system and thought systems, along with the problem of externalization. It also examines factors that may strongly influence language design, including properties of the brain, and concludes with a discussion of the unity and diversity of language and thought.

Keywords:   biolinguistic perspective, human language, evolution, autapomorphy, sensorimotor system, thought systems, externalization, language design, brain

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