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Ampersand: An International Journal of General and Applied Linguistics

Edited By R. Cann, H. Pichler, K. Van De Poel, D. van Olmen, and K. Watson

Academic Paper

Title: Foundations of Language: A biological paradigm
Paper URL:
Author: Mohd Ashraf Bhat
Email: click here TO access email
Institution: Indian Institute of Technology Delhi
Linguistic Field: Cognitive Science
Abstract: Many people have argued that the evolution of the human language faculty cannot be explained by Darwinian natural selection. Chomsky and Gould have suggested that language may have evolved as the by-product of selection for other abilities or as a consequence of asyet unknown laws of growth and form. Others have argued that a biological specialization for grammar is incompatible with every tenet of Darwinian theory, that it shows no genetic variation, could not exist in any intermediate forms, confers no selective advantage, and would require more evolutionary time and genomic space than is available. The present paper examines these arguments and illustrate that they depend on inaccurate assumptions about biology or language or both. Human language meets this criterion: grammar is a complex mechanism tailored to the transmission of propositional structures through a serial interface. Reviewing other arguments and data, the paper concludes that there is every reason to believe that a specialization for grammar evolved by a conventional neo-Darwinian process. All languages are complex computational systems employing the same basic kinds of rules and representations, with no notable correlation with technological progress: the grammars of industrial societies are no more complex than the grammars of hunter-gatherers. Within societies, individual humans are proficient language users regardless of intelligence, social status, or level of education. Disease or injury can make people linguistic savants while severely retarded, or linguistically impaired with normal intelligence. Nevertheless, some language disorders are genetically transmitted. Aspects of language skill can be linked to characteristic regions of the human brain. The human vocal tract is tailored to the demands of speech, compromising other functions such as breathing and swallowing. Human auditory perception shows complementary specializations toward the demands of decoding speech sounds into linguistic segments. The present proposal tried to explore the basic problems visà- vis the foundations of human language within a biological paradigm. It seeks an explanation of some basic issues concerning the evolutionary dynamics of human language within a biolinguistic framework. In addition to some theoretical notions, the paper also tries to explain the complexity, its biological design, innateness, lateralization, modularity and genetic adaption of human language system. Finally, it attempts to explain the suggestive biology-language homologies, and location of language in brain centers, and at narrower level in the genetic material.
Type: Individual Paper
Status: Completed
Venue: Germany
Publication Info: GRIN Publishing GmbH Munich, Germany, (ISBN No 978-3-656-02668-6), October, 2011

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