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Biological Foundations and Origin of Syntax$
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Derek Bickerton and Eörs Szathmáry

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780262013567

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: August 2013

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262013567.001.0001

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Syntax as an Adaptation to the Learner

Syntax as an Adaptation to the Learner

(p.324) (p.325) 15 Syntax as an Adaptation to the Learner
Biological Foundations and Origin of Syntax

Kirby Simon

H. Christiansen Morten

Chater Nick

The MIT Press

This chapter explores the implications of an evolutionary approach for the notion that human language syntax can be explained by significantly constraining domain-specific linguistic nativism. It considers three sources of evidence that seem to validate this nativist position: universals, the poverty of the stimulus, and the appearance of design. Drawing on the fact that the cultural transmission of language has its own adaptive dynamics, and from the results of mathematical, computational, and experimental studies, the chapter argues that the origins of syntactic structure can be adequately explained by taking into account the interactions between culture, biology, and individual learning. It discusses the link between language and cultural evolution, biases or constraints that shape syntax, and how syntax is shaped by sequential learning.

Keywords:   syntax, language, domain-specific linguistic nativism, universals, cultural transmission, evolution, syntactic structure, culture, biology, sequential learning

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