Selectionist Approaches in Evolutionary Linguistics: An Epistemological Analysis

Evolutionary linguistics is methodologically inspired by evolutionary psychology and the neo-Darwinian, selectionist approach. Language is claimed to have evolved by means of natural selection. The focus therefore lies not on how language evolved, but on finding out why language evolved. This latter question is answered by identifying the functional benefits and adaptive status that language provides, from which in turn selective pressures are deduced. This article analyses five of the most commonly given pressures or reasons why presumably language evolved. I demonstrate that these reasons depend on functional definitions of what language is. To undo this bias, I suggest that scholars move away from the ?why? and ?what for? questions of language evolution, and focus on how language actually evolved. The latter project inquires into the distinct evolutionary mechanisms enabling the evolution of the anatomical and sociocultural traits underlying linguistic behaviour.
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DOI 10.1080/02698595.2012.653114
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Amanda Seed & Michael Tomasello (2010). Primate Cognition. Topics in Cognitive Science 2 (3):407-419.

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