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Why and How the Problem of the Evolution of Universal Grammar (UG) is Hard

Harnad, Stevan (2008) Why and How the Problem of the Evolution of Universal Grammar (UG) is Hard. [Journal (On-line/Unpaginated)] (In Press)

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Abstract

Universal Grammar (UG) is a complicated set of grammatical rules that underlies our grammatical capacity. We all follow the rules of UG, but we were never taught them, and we could not have learned them from trial and error experience either (not enough data, or time). So UG must be inborn. But for similar reasons, it seems implausible that UG was “learned” by trial and error evolution either: What was the variation and competition? And what were UG’s adaptive advantages? So this leaves the hard problem of explaining where our brain’s UG capacity came from. Christiansen & Chater (C&C) suggest an answer: Language is an organism, like us, and our brains were not selected for UG capacity; rather, languages were selected for learnability with minimal trial and error experience by our brains. This explanation is circular: Where did our brains’ selective capacity to learn all and only UG-compliant languages come from? Chomsky suggests it might be a combination of optimality and logical necessity.

Item Type:Journal (On-line/Unpaginated)
Keywords:evolution, language, universal grammar, chomsky, poverty of the stimulus, learnability, adapative advantage
Subjects:Linguistics > Syntax
Biology > Evolution
Psychology > Evolutionary Psychology
ID Code:6008
Deposited By:Harnad, Stevan
Deposited On:07 Apr 2008 22:06
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:57

References in Article

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Chomsky, N. (2005): Some Simple Evo-Devo Theses: How True Might They Be For Language? Alice V. and David H. Morris Symposium on Language and Communication; The Evolution of Language. Stony Brook University, New York, USA (October 14 2005)

http://www.linguistics.stonybrook.edu/events/nyct05/abstracts/Chomsky.pdf

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