Syntax as an Emergent Characteristic of the Evolution of Semantic Complexity

Minds and Machines 9 (3):309-346 (1999)
It is commonly argued that the rules of language, as distinct from its semantic features, are the characteristics which most clearly distinguish language from the communication systems of other species. A number of linguists (e.g., Chomsky 1972, 1980; Pinker 1994) have suggested that the universal features of grammar (UG) are unique human adaptations showing no evolutionary continuities with any other species. However, recent summaries of the substantive features of UG are quite remarkable in the very general nature of the features proposed. While the syntax of any given language can be quite complex, the specific rules vary so much between languages that the truly universal (i.e. innate) aspects of grammar are not complex at all. In fact, these features most closely resemble a set of general descriptions of our richly complex semantic cognition, and not a list of specific rules. General principles of the evolutionary process suggest that syntax is more properly understood as an emergent characteristic of the explosion of semantic complexity that occurred during hominid evolution. It is argued that grammatical rules used in given languages are likely to be simply conventionalized, invented features of language, and not the result of an innate, grammar-specific module. The grammatical and syntactic regularities that are found across languages occur simply because all languages attempt to communicate the same sorts of semantic information
Keywords language  grammar  syntax  semantics  evolution  emergence  brain size
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1023/A:1008360020568
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 24,463
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

43 ( #112,830 of 1,925,534 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

3 ( #254,979 of 1,925,534 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.