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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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What Can Developmental Language Impairment Tell Us about the Genetic Bases of Syntax?

What Can Developmental Language Impairment Tell Us about the Genetic Bases of Syntax?

(p.184) (p.185) 9 What Can Developmental Language Impairment Tell Us about the Genetic Bases of Syntax?
Biological Foundations and Origin of Syntax

Bishop Dorothy V. M.

The MIT Press

According to the “Big Brain” theory, humans have language while other primates do not because of their bigger brains which give them more computing power. However, such an explanation was rejected by Noam Chomsky, who argued that syntax is entirely different from other cognitive abilities and thus requires a qualitatively different neural substrate in addition to more computing power. Chomsky proposed an alternative theory called the Grammar Gene theory, suggesting that, in the course of evolution, a genetic mutation might have given rise to a new kind of cognitive processing that made syntax possible. This chapter argues that neither the Big Brain nor the Grammar Gene account is tenable. Instead, it cites data from genetic studies of developmental language disorders indicating that language depends on numerous modifications to brain structure and function in humans. It considers alternatives to the Grammar Gene theory, including Neuroconstructivism and the Adaptationist account, and specific language impairment.

Keywords:   language, syntax, evolution, Big Brain theory, Noam Chomsky, Grammar Gene theory, genetic studies, brain, Neuroconstructivism, specific language impairment

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