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Creating LanguageIntegrating Evolution, Acquisition, and Processing$
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Morten H. Christiansen and Nick Chater

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780262034319

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262034319.001.0001

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Language as Shaped by the Brain

Language as Shaped by the Brain

(p.19) 2 Language as Shaped by the Brain
Creating Language

Morten H. Christiansen

Nick Chater

The MIT Press

Chapter 2 starts by discussing research on language evolution, showing that the traditional notion that Universal Grammar is a biological endowment of abstract linguistic constraints can be ruled out on evolutionary grounds. Instead, it is argued that the fit between the mechanisms employed for language and the way in which language is acquired and used can be explained by processes of cultural evolution, shaped by the human brain. Drawing parallels with the reuse of pre-existing cortical brain circuits for recent human innovations such as reading and arithmetic, language is suggested to have evolved likewise by “piggybacking” on prior neural mechanisms, constrained by social and pragmatic considerations, the nature of our thought processes, perceptuo-motor factors, and limitations on learning, memory, and processing. Through cultural transmission involving repeated cycles of learning and use, these constraints have shaped the world’s languages into the diversity of forms we can observe today through linguistic adaptation.

Keywords:   Language evolution, Cultural transmission, Linguistic adaptation, Cultural evolution, No Universal Grammar

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