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More than Nature Needs

More than Nature Needs

Derek Bickerton
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 334
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  • Book Info
    More than Nature Needs
    Book Description:

    How did humans acquire cognitive capacities far more powerful than any hunting-and-gathering primate needed to survive? Alfred Russel Wallace, co-founder with Darwin of evolutionary theory, set humans outside normal evolution. Darwin thought use of language might have shaped our sophisticated brains, but this remained an intriguing guess--until now. Combining state-of-the-art research with forty years of writing and thinking about language origins, Derek Bickerton convincingly resolves a crucial problem that biology and the cognitive sciences have systematically avoided. Before language or advanced cognition could be born, humans had to escape the prison of the here and now in which animal thinking and communication were both trapped. Then the brain's self-organization, triggered by words, assembled mechanisms that could link not only words but the concepts those words symbolized--a process that had to be under conscious control. Those mechanisms could be used equally for thinking and for talking, but the skeletal structures they produced were suboptimal for the hearer and had to be elaborated. Starting from humankind's remotest past,More than Nature Needstranscends nativist thesis and empiricist antithesis by presenting a revolutionary synthesis that shows specifically and in a principled way how and why the synthesis came about.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-72852-3
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Linguistics, Psychology, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. CHAPTER 1 Wallace’s Problem
    (pp. 1-15)

    The structure of this book is simple. In this chapter I state a problem and outline what I think is its solution. The rest of the book consists of arguments and evidence that support this solution. The problem itself, though quite easy to state, has ramifications that will take us through the territories of a number of disciplines, including evolutionary biology, paleoanthropology, psychology, neurobiology, and linguistics. Rest assured that everything will eventually lead us back to this same question, one of the most crucial anyone can ask: How did the human species acquire a mind that seems far more powerful...

  4. CHAPTER 2 Generative Theory
    (pp. 16-41)

    The theory of language that has most consistently upheld a belief in the existence of an innate component of language (and in particular, of syntax) is, of course, Chomskyan generative theory. When generative theory emerged in the late 1950s, it energized a hitherto lackluster field. Studies of syntax consisted of descriptions that were little more than labeled lists of constructions. There was no explanation of why language was the way it was, why it worked as it did. The distinction proposed by Chomsky (1957) between deep and surface structures (to be jettisoned forty years later, however) seemed, for generations raised...

  5. CHAPTER 3 The “Specialness” of Humans
    (pp. 42-72)

    The model of language proposed here is evolvable, and alternative models are not. That is a very strong claim, but strong claims are invariably better than weak ones. To refute a weak claim doesn’t take you very far into the subject. To refute a strong claim involves digging much deeper, which is what the field badly needs. Too many unsupported assumptions have been made, and too many misunderstandings have been allowed to pass unchallenged. None of these misunderstandings carries more danger than those that involve the relations between humans and other animals. Some of those who probably regard themselves as...

  6. CHAPTER 4 From Animal Communication to Protolanguage
    (pp. 73-108)

    Maynard Smith and Szathmary (1995) saw language as the eighth and latest of a series of major transitions in evolution. Two of the others are the emergence of multicellular organisms and the origin of life itself, so language moves in some pretty heavy company. And clearly events of such magnitude cannot occur like the flip of a switch. To the contrary, how life began breaks down into several different questions (Dyson 1999): how reproduction began, how metabolism began, and how replication began. (Note that, as Dyson explains, reproduction and replication are two different things.) And whether multicellular organisms had symbiotic,...

  7. CHAPTER 5 Universal Grammar
    (pp. 109-150)

    “Universal grammar is dead” (Tomasello 2009: 470). This confident assessment came from a commentator on Evans and Levinson (2009a), a paper hailed by others too as being fatal to any innate universals specifically concerned with language. However, Tomasello is quick to note that “it is not the idea of universals of language that is dead, but rather, it is the idea that there is a biological adaptation with specific linguistic content that is dead” (471). Linguists have been looking for universals in all the wrong places. “Instead of looking at the input-output system . . . or the pragmatics of...

  8. CHAPTER 6 Variation and Change
    (pp. 151-184)

    We have now effectively finished the part of this book that deals with biological evolution. The human brain, once inseminated with words, provided an instrument that enabled members of the species to acquire and use language. After that it was up to those members to make what they could of it. Of course, they could use linguistic materials only in ways those materials permitted and could change them only by adding features, not by altering or discarding fundamentals. It follows that subsequent developments, while constrained by UG, were primarily cultural innovations, and it follows too that they would have to...

  9. CHAPTER 7 Language “Acquisition”
    (pp. 185-217)

    There is one thing (perhaps the only thing) on which virtually all writers on child language are agreed: that in the beginning there is a child, A, and a language, B, that A does not yet have, and that A aims (consciously or otherwise) at acquiring B by a specifically targeted effort of some kind. This effort may or may not be helped by unconscious knowledge internal to A, depending on one’s theoretical bias, but it is one that may best be characterized by the termslearningoracquisitionand treated as a task rather than a set of automatic...

  10. CHAPTER 8 Creolization
    (pp. 218-257)

    Creole languages have long defied precise definition. They are generally understood to be relatively new languages, formed mostly (but by no means necessarily or exclusively) through contact between speakers of Europe an and non-European languages. While most such languages take most if not almost all of their vocabulary from a single European language (their “main lexifier”), their grammars contain numerous un-European features. These languages do not fit easily into traditional categories. Consequently almost anything else that can be said about them is controversial to some extent.

    According to one view (Hall 1966), creoles originate as part of a “pidgincreole cycle”:...

  11. CHAPTER 9 Homo Sapiens Loquens
    (pp. 258-276)

    Perhaps the most reassuring thing I found out in the course of writing this book was that in trying to explain how humans evolved, almost everybody was right about something. Few of the factors that were mentioned in the literature didn’t fit into the story somewhere.

    That was the plus side. The minus side was that, like the White Queen inAlice in Wonderland,far too many writers in the field could believe six impossible things before breakfast. They could believe that, unlike any other species, humans developed unique and highly specific powers without first undergoing some equally unique and...

  12. References
    (pp. 279-316)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 317-318)
  14. Index
    (pp. 319-324)