The Evolution of the Language Faculty: Clarifications and Implications

William Tecumseh Sherman Fitch, MD Hauser, N Chomsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

392 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

In this response to Pinker and Jackendoff s critique, we extend our previous framework for discussion of language evolution, clarifying certain distinctions and elaborating on a number of points. In the first half of the paper, we reiterate that profitable research into the biology and evolution of language requires fractionation of "language" into component mechanisms and interfaces, a non-trivial endeavor whose results are unlikely to map onto traditional disciplinary boundaries, Our terminological distinction between FLN and FLB is intended to help clarify misunderstandings and aid interdisciplinary rapprochement. By blurring this distinction, Pinker and Jackendoff mischaracterize our hypothesis 3 which concerns only FLN, not "language" as a whole. Many of their arguments and examples are thus irrelevant to this hypothesis. Their critique of the minimalist program is for the most part equally irrelevant, because very few of the arguments in our original paper were tied to this program; in an online appendix we detail the deep inaccuracies in their characterization of this program . Concerning evolution, we believe that Pinker and Jackendoff s emphasis on the past adaptive history of the language faculty is misplaced. Such questions are unlikely to be resolved empirically due to a lack of relevant data, and invite speculation rather than research. Preoccupation with the issue has retarded progress in the field by diverting research away from empirical questions, many of which can be addressed with comparative data. Moreover, offering an adaptive hypothesis as an alternative to our hypothesis concerning mechanisms is a logical error, as questions of function are independent of those concerning mechanism. The second half of our paper consists of a detailed response to the specific data discussed by Pinker and Jackendoff. Although many of their examples are irrelevant to our original paper and arguments, we find several areas of substantive disagreement that could be resolved by future empirical research. We conclude that progress in understanding the evolution of language will require much more empirical research, grounded in modern comparative biology, more interdisciplinary collaboration, and much less of the adaptive storytelling and phylogenetic speculation that has traditionally characterized the field. (c) 2005 Published by Elsevier B.V.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-210
Number of pages32
JournalCognition
Volume97
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2005

Keywords

  • CORTICAL REPRESENTATION
  • VOCAL-TRACT
  • NATURAL-SELECTION
  • WILD CHIMPANZEES
  • BRAILLE READERS
  • SPATIAL MEMORY
  • HUMAN SPEECH
  • PRIMATE
  • ANIMALS
  • INFANTS

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