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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 Acquisition Meets Language Evolution

Language Acquisition Meets Language Evolution

(p.67) 3 Language Acquisition Meets Language Evolution
Creating Language

Morten H. Christiansen

Nick Chater

The MIT Press

The third chapter explores the implications of the cultural evolution of language for understanding the problem of language acquisition, which is cast in a new and much more tractable form. In essence, the child faces a problem of induction, where the objective is to coordinate with others (C-induction), rather than to model the structure of the natural world (N-induction). It is argued that of the two, C-induction is dramatically easier and that, more broadly, understanding the acquisition of any cultural form, linguistic or otherwise, during development requires considering the corresponding question of how that cultural form arose through processes of cultural evolution. This perspective helps resolve the so-called “logical” problem of language acquisition—i.e., how children correctly generalize from limited input to the whole language—because the language itself has been shaped by previous generations of learners to fit the domain-general biases that children bring to bear on acquisition. The approach also provides insight into the nature of language universals, and has far-reaching implications for evolutionary psychology.

Keywords:   Language acquisition, Cultural evolution, Cultural induction, Domain-general acquisition biases, Logical problem of language acquisition, Language universals, Development, Evolutionary psychology

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