Cognitive modularity in the light of the language faculty

Logique Et Analyse 52 (208):373-387 (2009)
Johan De Smedt
University of Ghent
Ever since Chomsky, language has become the paradigmatic example of an innate capacity. Infants of only a few months old are aware of the phonetic structure of their mother tongue, such as stress-patterns and phonemes. They can already discriminate words from non-words and acquire a feel for the grammatical structure months before they voice their first word. Language reliably develops not only in the face of poor linguistic input, but even without it. In recent years, several scholars have extended this uncontroversial view into the stronger claim that natural language is a human-specific adaptation. As I shall point out, this position is more problematic because of a lack of conceptual clarity over what human-specific cognitive adaptations are, and how they relate to modularity, the notion that mental phenomena arise from several domain-specific cognitive structures. The main aim of this paper is not to discuss whether or not language is an adaptation, but rather, to examine the concept of modularity with respect to
the evolution and development of natural language.
Keywords cognitive modularity  language instinct  innateness
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