Syntax as an adaptation to the learner.

Simon Kirby, M. Christiansen, N. Chater

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)

Abstract / Description of output

This chapter considers the implications of an evolutionary approach for the idea that human language syntax can be explained by an appeal to strongly constraining domain-specific linguistic nativism. Three sources of evidence that appear to support this particularly strong nativist position are examined: universals, the appearance of design, and the poverty of the stimulus. By taking seriously the fact that the cultural transmission of language has its own adaptive dynamics, it is shown that each of these three motivations is undermined, drawing on evidence from mathematical, computational, and experimental studies. It is suggested that a truly explanatory account of the origins of syntactic structure needs to tackle the interactions between culture, biology, and individual learning-interactions that are perhaps uniquely complex in the case of human language.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBiological Foundations and Origin of Syntax
Subtitle of host publicationStrungmann forum reports
Place of PublicationCambridge MA
PublisherMIT Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9780262013567
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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